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Sources of variation in yolk hormone deposition: Consistency, inheritance and developmental effects

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  • Ecology
  • Geography


Maternal effects occur when the phenotype of the mother affects the phenotype of their offspring. They are thought to have evolved to translate the environmental conditions experienced by the mother into adaptive phenotypic variation of the offspring. However, the integration of environmental cues allowing adaptive responses requires some form of plasticity that depends on the interaction of the maternal phenotype and her environment. In birds, maternal yolk hormones represent such a pathway for maternal effects, and their adaptive significance depends thus on the plasticity in maternal yolk hormone deposition. We studied sources of variation in yolk testosterone deposition, focusing on the often neglected contribution of the (partly heritable) maternal phenotype. We investigated consistency and heritability of yolk testosterone deposition in captive canaries of which the F1 generation was raised in foster nests and analyzed the potential effects of the early developmental conditions. We found significant female consistency across years in egg mass, yolk mass and total amount of yolk testosterone but not in yolk testosterone concentrations. Females varied the yolk testosterone concentrations of their eggs across years mainly via changes in yolk mass. The heritable variation in egg mass, yolk mass and amount of yolk testosterone but not yolk testosterone concentrations was within the range of previous studies, but not significantly different from zero. Finally, the growth of the daughters as nestling had a significant effect on their yolk testosterone deposition at adulthood indicating the transgenerational potential for environmental effects – via the effects of yolk hormones on offspring development.

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