Maternal androgens in black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus) eggs: Consequences for chick development

C.M Eising, C. Eikenaar, H Schwabl, A.G.G. Groothuis

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Abstract

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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)839-846
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences
Volume268
Issue number1469
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22-Apr-2001

Keywords

  • yolk androgens
  • hatching asynchrony
  • sibling competition
  • parental investment
  • chick growth
  • maternal hormones
  • RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD
  • HATCHING ASYNCHRONY
  • BROOD REDUCTION
  • SEXUAL-DIFFERENTIATION
  • ALTRICIAL BIRDS
  • BARNACLE GEESE
  • TESTOSTERONE
  • YOLK
  • NESTLINGS
  • SURVIVAL

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