Brood Reduction via Intra-clutch Variation in Testosterone - An Experimental Test in the Great Tit

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Abstract

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.

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Podlas, K., Helfenstein, F., & Richner, H. (2013). Brood Reduction via Intra-clutch Variation in Testosterone - An Experimental Test in the Great Tit. PLoS ONE, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0056672

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