Plasma prolactin began to increase significantly about 5 days after the onset of incubation in both sexes of the dove to reach a peak at the time of hatch. At this time, the concentration of prolactin in the plasma of the female was significantly higher than in the male. In the middle of the incubation period prolactin levels measured over a 24-h period remained constant in both sexes, although the male sits during the middle of the day and the female for the rest of the time. Nest deprivation resulted in a sharp, significant decline in the concentration of prolactin in both sexes. Newly hatched squabs stimulated the release of prolactin only in those doves which had been incubating eggs for several days.
A distinct sex difference was observed in the expression of nest defence behaviour of the ring dove during the breeding cycle. At the time of laying, the female was significantly more aggressive than the male and her aggression increased only slightly up to the time of hatching. In contrast, male aggression increased gradually from a low level at laying to reach a peak at the time of hatching. The levels of plasma progesterone in the female showed a significant increase around the time of lay. No significant changes occurred in the plasma concentration of either progesterone or 17α-hydroxyprogesterone in the male.
Administration of prolactin increased the length of time of incubation of infertile eggs. Nest manipulations which had the effect of inducing the doves to begin incubation 4 days before laying showed that (1) the length of time of incubation of infertile eggs is fixed and independent of events which occur at courtship or oviposition, (2) the initiation of the increase in plasma prolactin concentration during incubation is independent of events which occur at courtship and oviposition and (3) the termination of incubation is always preceded by a fall in the concentration of plasma prolactin.
It is concluded that the length of time of incubation is dependent upon sustained raised levels of plasma prolactin. The concentration of plasma prolactin increases several days after the onset of incubation in response to the tactile stimulation of sitting. High levels, if maintained by visual stimulation from the nest, maintain incubation for a fixed period. After this, if the eggs fail to hatch, prolactin levels fall and the doves cease incubation and begin a new cycle.
J. Endocr. (1986) 110, 447–458