The ovary plays an important role in mediating both a female's response to her social environment and communicating it to her developing offspring via maternal effects. Past work has focused on how ovarian hormones respond to competition, but we know little about how the broader ovarian transcriptomic landscape changes, either during or after competition, giving us a narrow perspective on how socially induced phenotypes arise. Here, we experimentally generated social competition among wild, cavity-nesting female birds (tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor), a species in which females lack a socially induced rise in circulating testosterone but they nevertheless increase allocation to eggs. After territory settlement, we reduced availability of nesting cavities, generating heightened competition; within 24 h we reversed the manipulation, causing aggressive interactions to subside. We measured ovarian transcriptomic responses at the peak of competition and 48 h later, along with date-matched controls. Network analyses indicated that competing females experienced an immediate and temporary decrease in the expression of genes involved in the early stages of steroidogenesis, and this was moderately correlated with plasma testosterone; however, two days after competition had ended, there was a marked increase in the expression of genes involved in the final stages of steroidogenesis, including HSD17B1. Gene networks related to the cell cycle, muscle performance, and extracellular matrix organization also displayed altered activity. Although the functional consequences of these findings are unclear, they shed light on socially responsive ovarian genomic mechanisms that could potentially exert lasting effects on behavior, reproduction, and maternal effects.

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