Maternal reproductive investment can critically influence offspring phenotype, and thus these maternal effects are expected to be under strong natural selection. Knowledge on the extent of heritable variation in the physiological mechanisms underlying maternal effects is however limited. In birds, resource allocation to eggs is a key mechanism for mothers to affect their offspring and different components of the egg may or may not be independently adjusted. We studied the heritability of egg components and their genetic and phenotypic covariation in great tits (Parus major), using captive-bred full siblings of wild origin. Egg mass, testosterone (T) and androstenedione (A4) hormone concentrations showed moderate heritability, in agreement with earlier findings. Interestingly, yolk triiodothyronine hormone (T3), but not its precursor, thyroxine hormone (T4), concentration was heritable. An immune factor, albumen lysozyme, showed moderate heritability, but yolk immunoglobulins (IgY) did not. The genetic correlation estimates were moderate but statistically nonsignificant; a trend for a positive genetic correlation was found between A4 and egg mass, T and lysozyme and IgY and lysozyme, respectively. Interestingly, phenotypic correlations were found only between A4 and T, and T4 and T3, respectively. Given that these egg components are associated with fitness-related traits in the offspring (and mother), and that we show that some components are heritable, it opens the possibility that natural selection may shape the rate and direction of phenotypic change via egg composition.Heredity advance online publication, 6 July 2016; doi:10.1038/hdy.2016.49.
Data from: Heritable variation in maternally-derived yolk androgens, thyroid hormones and immune factors
Ruuskanen, S. (Creator), Gienapp, P. (Creator), Groothuis, T. (Creator), Schaper, S. V. (Creator), Darras, V. M. (Creator), Pereira, C. (Creator), de Vries, B. (Creator) & Visser, M. (Creator), University of Groningen, 17-May-2016