Hatching asynchrony in avian species generally leads to a size hierarchy among siblings, favouring the first-hatched chicks. Maternally deposited hormones affect the embryo and chick's physiology and behaviour. It has been observed that progesterone, a hormone present at higher levels than other steroid hormones in egg yolks, is negatively related to body mass in embryos, chicks and adults. A differential within-clutch progesterone deposition could therefore be linked to the size hierarchy between siblings and to the resulting brood reduction. We tested whether yolk progesterone levels differed between eggs according to future parental ability to feed the entire clutch in wild rockhopper penguins Eudyptes chrysocome. This species presents a unique reversed egg-size dimorphism and hatching asynchrony, with the larger second-laid egg (B-egg) hatching before the smaller first-laid egg (A-egg). Yolk progesterone levels increased only slightly with female body mass at laying. However, intra-clutch ratios were not related to female body mass. On the other hand, yolk progesterone levels increased significantly with the date of laying onset for A-eggs while they decreased for B-eggs. Early clutches therefore had proportionally more progesterone in the B-egg compared to the A-egg while late clutches had proportionally less progesterone in the B-egg. We propose that females could strategically regulate yolk progesterone deposition within clutches according to the expected food availability during chick growth, an adaptive strategy to adjust brood reduction to conditions. We also discuss these results, relating to yolk progesterone, in the broader context of other yolk steroids.
Crested penguins (genus Eudyptes) have a peculiar hatching pattern, with the first-laid egg (A-egg) hatching after the second-laid egg (B-egg) and chicks from A-eggs typically having a much lower survival probability. Maternal yolk androgens have been suggested to contribute to the competitive superiority of the B-chick in southern rockhopper penguins Eudyptes chrysocome, given their important role in mediating sibling competition in other species. We therefore increased the yolk androgen levels in freshly-laid eggs and examined the consequences for sibling competition - via effects on embryonic developmental times, chick growth and early survival. We placed one androgen-treated egg and one control egg into each foster nest, matching them for mass, laying date and laying order. The androgen treatment did not significantly affect embryonic developmental times or chick measurements at hatching. However, elevated yolk androgen levels benefitted chick growth in interaction with the number of siblings in a brood. Chicks from androgen-treated eggs had faster growth in the presence of a sibling than chicks from control eggs. Under these circumstances they also had a higher survival probability. Thus maternal androgens appear to reinforce the observed hatching pattern, facilitating brood reduction. This contrasts to most previous studies in other species where yolk androgens have been shown to compensate for the negative consequences of delayed hatching within the brood hierarchy.
Females may favour some offspring over others by differential deposition of yolk hormones. In American kestrels (Falco sparverius), we found that yolks of eggs laid late in the sequence of a clutch had more testosterone (T) and androstenedione (A4) than yolks of first-laid eggs. To investigate the effects of these yolk androgens on nestling 'fitness', we injected both T and A4 into the yolks of first-laid eggs and compared their hatching time, nestling growth and nestling survival with those of first-laid eggs in which we injected vehicle as a control. Compared to controls, injection of T and A4 at a dose intended to increase their levels to those of later-laid eggs delayed hatching and reduced nestling growth and survival rates. Yolk androgen treatment of egg 1 had no effect on survival of siblings hatching from subsequently laid eggs. The adverse actions of yolk androgen treatment in the kestrel are in contrast to the favourable actions of yolk T treatment found previously in canaries (Serinus canaria). Additional studies are necessary in order to determine whether the deposition of yolk androgens is an adaptive form of parental favouritism or an adverse by-product of endocrine processes during egg formation. Despite its adaptive significance, such 'transgenerational' effects of steroid hormones may have helped to evolutionarily shape the hormonal mechanisms regulating reproduction.
We tested the hypothesis that mother birds counterbalance the negative effects of hatching asynchrony for later-hatched chicks by increasing the yolk androgen concentrations in consecutive eggs of their clutch. In doing so, they may adaptively tune each offspring's competitive ability and, thus, growth and survival. However, evidence in support of this hypothesis is contradictory. The yolk concentrations of maternal androgens in the eggs of black-headed gulls increase significantly with the laying order of the eggs in a clutch. We experimentally tested the functional consequences of this increase on chick development under natural conditions by injecting eggs with either an oil or androgen solution. We created experimental clutches in which androgen levels either stayed constant or increased with laying order while controlling for differences in egg quality by using only first-laid eggs. We then compared development, growth and survival between these broods. Androgen treatment enhanced embryonic development because androgen-treated eggs hatched half a day earlier than controls, while their size at hatching was similar to oil-treated controls. Androgen treatment did not increase chick survival, but it enhanced growth. Androgen-treated, third-hatched chicks had a higher body mass and longer legs than third-hatched chicks that hatched from oil-treated eggs. At the same time, growth of first chicks (which were all oil treated) was reduced by the presence of two androgen-treated siblings, suggesting that yolk androgens enhance the competitive ability of later-hatched chicks. Our results support the hypothesis that transfer of different amounts of androgens to the eggs of a clutch is a mechanism by which mothers maximize their reproductive output.
Maternal yolk androgens can promote growth and competitive abilities of nestling birds but are also suggested to increase susceptibility to parasites or suppress immune function. We tested the hypothesis that females exposed to ectoparasites during egg formation will adjust the content of androgens in the yolk. We predicted that when anticipating high levels of parasitism, females deposit (i) less androgens into all eggs of their clutch and (ii) smaller amounts of androgens in eggs late in the laying sequence to facilitate brood reduction. In a field experiment we exposed female great tits (Parus major) to hen fleas (Ceratophyllus gallinae), or kept them free of ectoparasites prior to egg laying. We collected the eggs and measured yolk concentrations of androstenedione (A4), testosterone (T) and 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by radioimmunoassay. Among clutches, eggs of ectoparasite-exposed females contained significantly less A4 and tended to contain less T, whereas DHT content was unaffected. Within clutches, content of A4 and T increased significantly with laying order whereas DHT content significantly decreased. These patterns were unaffected by ectoparasites. In summary, our results provide no evidence for hormone-based facilitation of brood reduction under ectoparasite exposure but support the hypothesis that females exposed to ectoparasites reduce levels of T and its precursor A4 in yolk and might thereby reduce the negative effects of parasites on offspring.
Avian eggs contain considerable amounts of maternal yolk androgens, which have been shown to beneficially influence the physiology and behaviour of the chick. As androgens may suppress immune functions, they may also entail costs for the chick. This is particularly relevant for colonial species, such as the black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus), in which the aggregation of large numbers of birds during the breeding season enhances the risk of infectious diseases for the hatching chick.
To test the effect of maternal yolk androgens on the chick's immune function, we experimentally manipulated, in a field study, yolk androgen levels within the physiological range by in ovo injection of either androgens (testosterone and androstenedione) or sesame oil (control) into freshly laid eggs. We determined cell-mediated immunity (CMI) and humoral immunity of the chicks at the beginning of the nestling period to evaluate early modulatory effects of yolk androgens on immune function.
Embryonic exposure to elevated levels of androgens negatively affected both CMI and humoral immunity in nestling gull chicks. Consequently, maternal yolk androgens not only entail benefits of enhanced competitiveness and growth as previously shown, but also costs in terms of immunosuppression. The outcome of embryonic yolk androgen exposure thus likely depends on the post-hatching circumstances for the developing offspring such as parasite exposure and degree of sibling competition.
testosterone; lipopolysaccharides; antibody; phytohemagglutinin; humoral immunity
It has been proposed that the maternal androgens in avian egg yolk enhance offspring fitness by accelerating growth and improving competitive ability. Because egg quality is strongly influenced by maternal condition, we predicted that females in good condition would produce high-quality eggs with relatively high androgen content. We experimentally enhanced maternal condition by supplementary feeding lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus) during egg formation and compared the concentrations of androstenedione (A4), 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and testosterone (T) in their eggs with those in eggs laid by control females. We also measured circulating levels of T in females immediately after laying. Egg androgens could affect offspring performance directly through chick development and/or indirectly through changes in the competitive ability of a chick relative to its siblings. To avoid confounding these two routes, and to separate effects operating through the egg itself with those operating through experimental changes in parental chick rearing capacity, we fostered eggs from both maternal treatment groups singly into the nests of unmanipulated parents. Contrary to expectation, mothers with experimentally enhanced body condition laid eggs with lower levels of androgens, while exhibiting higher circulating T concentrations post-laying. Despite these lower levels of egg androgen, offspring hatched from eggs laid by mothers in good condition did not show reduced growth or survival when reared in the absence of sibling competition. Our results demonstrate that yolk androgen concentrations vary with the body condition of the female at the time of egg formation and that females in good condition reduced the yolk androgen content of their eggs without altering offspring performance.
A negative relationship, or trade-off, between egg size and clutch size is a central and long-standing component of life-history theory, yet there is little empirical evidence for such a trade-off, especially at the intraspecific level. Here, I show that female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) treated chronically during egg formation with the anti-oestrogen tamoxifen lay smaller eggs (by 8%) but produce larger clutches (on average two eggs more) than controls. Decreased egg mass in tamoxifen-treated females was associated with a 50% decrease in plasma levels of the two yolk precursors, vitellogenin and very-low-density lipoprotein. Although tamoxifen-treated females laid more, smaller eggs (and had a higher total expenditure in their clutch), they did not differ from controls in the number of chicks fledged, the mass or size of these chicks at fledging, or the chicks' egg-production performance at three months of age. However, tamoxifen-treated females had lower relative hatching success: they laid more eggs but hatched the same number of chicks. Among individual tamoxifen-treated females, birds that laid the smallest eggs early in their laying sequence laid the largest number of additional eggs, that is, there was a negative correlation, or trade-off, between egg size and clutch size.
Maternal hormones in vertebrate eggs can mediate important forms of maternal effects. However, the function of hormone transfer to the eggs is still debated, especially because long-term fitness consequences have been little studied. We investigated the effect of prenatal exposure to physiologically elevated yolk testosterone (T) levels on reproduction of female pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in captivity. We found that females hatching from T-injected eggs (T-females) had a lower egg-laying rate than controls, and their eggs were more frequently infertile than those laid by control females. There were no effects of prenatal maternal treatment on egg size and yolk T concentration, but eggs carrying a female embryo laid by T-females had smaller yolks than eggs with a male embryo, while there was no sex difference in yolk size among the eggs laid by control females. Progeny sex ratio was unaffected by maternal treatment. These findings suggest that the transfer of high androgen levels to the eggs by the mother is constrained by complex trade-offs between direct effects on her daughters’ reproduction and by trans-generational differential consequences on male and female descendants.
egg laying; fecundity; fertility; maternal effects; sex allocation; testosterone
Avian eggs contain substantial amounts of maternal androgens. The concentrations of these yolk androgens are affected by the maternal environment, such as the level of social competition, parasite exposure or food conditions. Since yolk androgens have been shown to affect a wide array of offspring traits, they may adjust the chicks to the expected post-hatching environment, but experimental evidence is still scarce. We investigate in colonial breeding black-headed gulls whether high concentrations of yolk androgens, such as those found in environments with high numbers of social interactions, facilitate aggressiveness and territorial behaviour of the chicks. Black-headed gulls are highly suitable for this, as the semi-precocial chicks defend the natal territory and food against intruders. We manipulated yolk androgen concentrations and investigated their role in both within-nest and between-nest aggression. We found that chicks hatching from androgen-treated eggs defended the natal territory more often than their nest mates from control eggs, without increasing sibling aggression. This suggests that variation in yolk androgen concentrations in relation to the social environment of the mother may indeed allow adjustment of the offspring's behaviour to the expected frequency of territorial interactions with conspecifics post-hatching.
testosterone; maternal effects; aggression; colonial breeding
Maternal hormones are known to be present in avian eggs and can have beneficial effects on chick development. Recently, differences in avian yolk steroid concentrations between the sexes have been demonstrated, and in this context steroids have been proposed to be part of the avian sex-determining mechanism. In our study, we show that it is very unlikely that androgen concentrations alone are the decisive part of the sex-determining mechanism. We found that sex-specific differences in the yolk hormones strongly depend on the social rank of the mother. First, dominant females, but not subdominant females, allocated significantly more testosterone to male eggs than to female eggs. Second, subordinate females increased the testosterone concentrations of female eggs. This pattern of yolk hormone deposition can be functionally explained. In polygynous species such as the chicken, reproductive success is more variable in males than in females. Parental investment in sons or daughters is therefore expected to occur in direct relation to parental rearing capacities. We found that the social status of a hen was indeed negatively correlated with her maternal capacities (for example, body mass, egg mass). Differential androgen deposition might thus provide a mechanism for adaptive maternal investment depending on both the sex of the egg and the social status of the mother.
Female birds might be able to manipulate the parental effort of their male partner through elevated transfer of hormones to the eggs, since these hormones affect many chick traits that males might use as cues for adjusting the level of their investment. We experimentally studied whether female pied flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca could manipulate male investment via yolk androgens. There is much more variation in yolk androgen levels between females than within clutches, and in order to change the androgen levels of the eggs, we swapped whole clutches between nests. To estimate the androgen levels of the clutch, we measured the androgen content of a single egg per clutch. Females did not succeed in manipulating male effort using yolk androgens, since there was no relationship between the division of parental care within a pair and either original or foster egg androgen levels. One of these relationships should have occurred if females were manipulating males. The proportion of feeding visits by the male was higher when the male was old (55%) than when he was young (45%) and females laid eggs with higher androgen levels when mated with a young male. Young males did not exhibit any responses to yolk androgen levels either, which indicates that females cannot exploit their effort more than that of old males. We suggest that females may allocate yolk androgens to adjust the growth trajectories of the chicks to poor growing conditions when mated with young males that are poor providers or occupying a poor territory.
Aves; Birds; Compensatory investment; Differential allocation; Maternal effect; Parental care; Testosterone
We investigated the relationship between plasma and yolk oestrogens in laying female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) by manipulating plasma oestradiol (E2) levels, via injection of oestradiol-17β, in a sequence-specific manner to maintain chronically high plasma levels for later-developing eggs (contrasting with the endogenous pattern of decreasing plasma E2 concentrations during laying). We report systematic variation in yolk oestrogen concentrations, in relation to laying sequence, similar to that widely reported for androgenic steroids. In sham-manipulated females, yolk E2 concentrations decreased with laying sequence. However, in E2-treated females plasma E2 levels were higher during the period of rapid yolk development of later-laid eggs, compared with control females. As a consequence, we reversed the laying-sequence-specific pattern of yolk E2: in E2-treated females, yolk E2 concentrations increased with laying-sequence. In general therefore, yolk E2 levels were a direct reflection of plasma E2 levels. However, in control females there was some inter-individual variability in the endogenous pattern of plasma E2 levels through the laying cycle which could generate variation in sequence-specific patterns of yolk hormone levels even if these primarily reflect circulating steroid levels.
maternal effects; plasma oestradiol-17β; Taeniopygia guttata; yolk hormones
Yolk androgens affect offspring hatching, begging, growth and survival in many bird species. If these effects are sex-specific, yolk androgen deposition may constitute a mechanism for differential investment in male and female offspring. We tested this hypothesis in zebra finches. In this species, females increase yolk-testosterone levels and produce male-biased sex ratios when paired to more attractive males. We therefore predicted that especially sons benefit from elevated yolk androgens. Eggs were injected with testosterone or sesame oil (controls) after 2 days of incubation.
Testosterone had no clear effect on sex-specific embryonic mortality and changed the pattern of early nestling mortality independent of offspring sex. Testosterone-treated eggs took longer to hatch than control eggs. Control males begged significantly longer than females during the first days after hatching and grew significantly faster. These sex differences were reduced in offspring from testosterone-treated eggs due to prolonged begging durations of daughters, enhanced growth of daughters and reduced growth of sons. The results show that variation in maternal testosterone can play an important role in avian sex allocation due to its sex-specific effects on offspring begging and growth.
maternal hormones; testosterone; sex allocation; survival; begging; growth
In birds, yolk androgen concentrations in eggs can increase or decrease over the laying sequence and common hypotheses hold that this serves to favour the competitive ability of either first- or last-hatched chicks depending on the prevailing conditions, and thus promote brood reduction or maintenance of original brood size respectively. Intra-clutch variation of testosterone can shift relative competitive ability of siblings and hence competitive dynamics. In a natural population of great tits, we experimentally investigated the effects and function of maternal testosterone on offspring phenotype in relation to the laying position of the egg in a context of hatching asynchrony. To this end, we created three types of clutches where either the first three or the last three eggs of a clutch were injected with testosterone (T) dissolved in sesame oil, and the remaining eggs with sesame oil only, or where all eggs of a clutch were injected with sesame oil. Increased levels of yolk T in the last-laid eggs resulted in the last-hatched chicks being significantly lighter and smaller than their siblings, while increased levels of T in the first-laid eggs had no direct effect on the first-hatched chicks, but an indirect negative effect on their siblings. Our results suggest that females can potentially adjust offspring phenotype by modulating, over the laying sequence, the amounts of T deposited in the eggs. These results are in contradiction, however, with current hypotheses and previous findings, which suggest that under good conditions higher levels of maternally derived T in the last-laid eggs should mitigate the negative effects of hatching asynchrony.
The increase or decrease in yolk androgens over the laying sequence of a clutch in birds may mitigate or enhance, respectively, the disadvantage of the last-hatched chicks, providing a potentially adaptive tool to adjust brood size to food conditions. This variation may involve a genetic component on which Darwinian selection can act. We found that two lines of a wild bird species selected for bold and shy personalities show, respectively, increased and decreased androgen concentrations over the laying sequence. The line showing the increase laid earlier in the season, when food conditions are normally sufficient to raise the whole brood. The line showing the decrease laid later, when food is normally scarce, which may facilitate brood reduction. The results indicate a correlated response in maternal hormone transfer to genetic selection on personality, which relates to ecological conditions.
maternal effects; testosterone; personality; laying date; hatching asynchrony
Avian eggs contain substantial amounts of maternal androgens, and several studies have indicated that these are beneficial for the chick. Nevertheless, there is a large and systematic variation in maternal hormone concentrations both within and between clutches. If maternal androgens also involve costs, this might explain why not all mothers put high levels of androgens in their clutches. However, the simultaneous occurrence of both benefits and costs has not yet been convincingly demonstrated. We show experimentally that yolk androgens suppress immune function and simultaneously stimulate growth in black-headed gull chicks. Thus, mothers face a trade-off between these costs and benefits and may tune hormone deposition to prevailing conditions that influence chick survival.
maternal hormones; androgens; testosterone; maternal effects; immune function; growth
The aim of this study was to examine whether the energetic costs of reproduction explain offspring desertion by female shorebirds, as is suggested by the differential parental capacity hypothesis. A prediction of the hypothesis is that, in species with biparental incubation in which females desert from brood care after hatching, the body condition of females should decline after laying to a point at which their body reserves are too low for continuing parental care. We tested this prediction on Kentish plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) in which both sexes incubate but the females desert from brood care before the chicks fledge. We found no changes in either the body masses or body compositions of both individual male and female plovers from early incubation and throughout early chick rearing. Furthermore, the timing of brood desertion by females was not affected by their body condition. Neither did we find gender differences in the energetic costs of incubation. There were no differences in the timing of brood desertion between experimental and control females in an experiment in which we lengthened or shortened the duration of incubation by one week. These results indicate that energetic costs do not explain offspring desertion by female Kentish plovers and that the needs of chicks for parental care rather than cumulative investment by females is what determines the timing of brood desertion.
Individual phenotypic characteristics of many species are influenced by non-genetic maternal effects. Female birds can influence the development of their offspring before birth via the yolk steroid content of their eggs. We investigated this prenatal maternal effect by analysing the influence of laying females' social environment on their eggs' hormonal content and on their offspring's development. Social instability was applied to groups of laying Japanese quail females. We evaluated the impact of this procedure on laying females, on yolk steroid levels and on the general development of chicks. Agonistic interactions were more frequent between females kept in an unstable social environment (unstable females) than between females kept in a stable social environment (stable females). Testosterone concentrations were higher in unstable females' eggs than in those of stable females. Unstable females' chicks hatched later and developed more slowly during their first weeks of life than those of stable females. The emotional reactivity of unstable females' chicks was higher than that of stable females' chicks. In conclusion, our study showed that social instability applied to laying females affected, in a non-genetic way, their offspring's development, thus stressing the fact that females' living conditions during laying can have transgenerational effects.
Logger technology has revolutionised our knowledge of the behaviour and physiology of free-living animals but handling and logger attachments may have negative effects on the behaviour of the animals and their welfare. We studied southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) females during the guard stage in three consecutive breeding seasons (2008/09−2010/11) to evaluate the effects of handling and logger attachment on foraging trip duration, dive behaviour and physiological parameters. Smaller dive loggers (TDRs) were used in 2010/11 for comparison to larger GPS data loggers used in all three seasons and we included two categories of control birds: handled controls and PIT control birds that were previously marked with passive integrative transponders (PITs), but which had not been handled during this study. Increased foraging trip duration was only observed in GPS birds during 2010/11, the breeding season in which we also found GPS birds foraging further away from the colony and travelling longer distances. Compared to previous breeding seasons, 2010/11 may have been a period with less favourable environmental conditions, which would enhance the impact of logger attachments. A comparison between GPS and TDR birds showed a significant difference in dive depth frequencies with birds carrying larger GPS data loggers diving shallower. Mean and maximum dive depths were similar between GPS and TDR birds. We measured little impact of logger attachments on physiological parameters (corticosterone, protein, triglyceride levels and leucocyte counts). Overall, handling and short-term logger attachments (1–3 days) showed limited impact on the behaviour and physiology of the birds but care must be taken with the size of data loggers on diving seabirds. Increased drag may alter their diving behaviour substantially, thus constraining them in their ability to catch prey. Results obtained in this study indicate that data recorded may also not represent their normal dive behaviour.
Despite the strong interest in hormone-mediated maternal effects two key questions concerning their mechanisms are as yet unanswered: First, whether the deposition of hormones in the egg yolk is coupled with the levels of these hormones in the maternal circulation, and second, whether epigenetic changes as induced by embryonic exposure to maternal yolk hormones impinge on yolk hormone deposition at adulthood. We investigated the responsiveness to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in female canaries whose embryonic exposure to yolk testosterone had been manipulated. This enabled us to study to what extent GnRH interlinks testosterone concentrations in female circulation and egg yolk as well as the intergenerational potential of hormone-mediated maternal effects. As expected, canary females responded to GnRH with a rise in plasma testosterone. The GnRH-responsiveness was positively correlated with the yolk testosterone content. Factors stimulating the release of GnRH will, therefore, lead to an increase of testosterone in both plasma and egg, posing a potential constraint on the yolk hormone deposition due to testosterone related trade-offs within the laying female. Exposure to elevated yolk testosterone levels as embryo reduced the GnRH-responsiveness in adulthood, potentially limiting environmental influences on yolk testosterone deposition, but the concentrations of yolk testosterone itself were not affected.
The costs of egg production and incubation may have a crucial effect on avian reproductive decisions, such as clutch size and the timing of reproduction. We carried out a brood-size enlargement experiment on the great tit (Parus major), in which the birds had to lay and incubate extra eggs (full costs), only incubate extra eggs (free eggs) or did not pay any extra cost (free chicks) in obtaining a larger brood. We used female fitness (half the recruits produced plus female survival) as a fitness measure because it is the female which pays the costs of egg production and incubation, and because clutch size is under female control. Female fitness decreased with increasing costs (fitness of free chicks females is higher than that of free eggs females which is higher than that of full costs females). These fitness differences were due to differences in female survival rather than in the number of recruits produced. This is the first time that the costs of egg production and incubation have been estimated using such a complete fitness measure, including, as our measure does, the local survival to the following year of both the female and her offspring. Our results emphasize that reproductive decisions cannot be understood without taking egg production and incubation costs into account.
Reproductive, phenotypic and life-history traits in many animal and plant taxa show geographic variation, indicating spatial variation in selection regimes. Maternal deposition to avian eggs, such as hormones, antibodies and antioxidants, critically affect development of the offspring, with long-lasting effects on the phenotype and fitness. Little is however known about large-scale geographical patterns of variation in maternal deposition to eggs. We studied geographical variation in egg components of a passerine bird, the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), by collecting samples from 16 populations and measuring egg and yolk mass, albumen lysozyme activity, yolk immunoglobulins, yolk androgens and yolk total carotenoids. We found significant variation among populations in most egg components, but ca. 90% of the variation was among individuals within populations. Population however explained 40% of the variation in carotenoid levels. In contrast to our hypothesis, we found geographical trends only in carotenoids, but not in any of the other egg components. Our results thus suggest high within-population variation and leave little scope for local adaptation and genetic differentiation in deposition of different egg components. The role of these maternally-derived resources in evolutionary change should be further investigated.
Female birds can influence offspring fitness by varying the relative quantities of egg components they deposit within and between clutches. Antimicrobial proteins (lysozyme, ovotransferrin, and avidin) are significant components of the avian albumen and likely aid in defense of embryos from microbial infection. Within clutches, females may enhance antimicrobial defense of early-laid eggs to protect them from the high risk of infection incurred before the onset of incubation. Among entire clutches, females may invest more resources in young sired by more attractive males because they have higher reproductive value. We tested these hypotheses by quantifying antimicrobial protein distribution within and among clutches in blue tit eggs. Contrary to our hypothesis, clutches showed no differential deposition of lysozyme or avidin within clutches, but eggs laid in the middle of the sequence had higher concentrations of ovotransferrin than eggs in the beginning and end. Consistent with our second hypothesis, we found that females produced eggs with higher concentrations of lysozyme (although not ovotransferrin or avidin) when mated to more attractive (more UV-reflective) males. Furthermore, females mated to polygynous males deposited less lysozyme than those mated to monogamous males. These data suggest that allocation of lysozyme at the clutch level may be a maternal effect mediated by male qualities.
Maternal effects; Antimicrobial proteins; Differential allocation; Egg infection
Male and female offspring can differ in their susceptibility to pre-natal (e.g. egg quality) and post-natal (e.g. sib–sib competition) conditions, and parents can therefore increase their individual fitness by adjusting these maternal effects according to offspring sex. In birds, egg mass and laying/hatching order are the main determinants of offspring viability, but these effects can act differently on each sex. In a previous study, relatively large last-laid (c-)eggs of yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) were more likely to carry a female embryo. This suggests compensatory allocation of maternal resources to daughters from c-eggs, which suffer reduced viability. In the present study, we supplemented yellow-legged gulls with food during the laying period to experimentally test whether their nutritional conditions were responsible for the observed covariation between c-egg sex and mass. As predicted, food supplementation enhanced female c-eggs' mass more than that of male c-eggs. Thus, this experiment indicates that mothers strategically allocated their resources to c-eggs, possibly in order to compensate for the larger susceptibility of daughters to hatching (and laying) order. The results also suggested that mothers decided on resource allocation depending on the sex of already ovulated c-eggs, rather than ovulating ova of either sex depending on food availability.
egg size; food availability; laying order; maternal effects; sex allocation