Effects of experimentally manipulated yolk thyroid hormone levels on offspring development in a wild bird species

Suvi Ruuskanen, Veerle M. Darras, Marcel E. Visser, Ton G.G. Groothuis

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract Maternal effects are a crucial mechanism in a wide array of taxa to generate phenotypic variation, thereby affecting offspring development and fitness. Maternally derived thyroid hormones (THs) are known to be essential for offspring development in mammalian and fish models, but have been largely neglected in avian studies, especially in respect to natural variation and an ecological context. We studied, for the first time in a wild species and population, the effects of maternally derived THs on offspring development, behavior, physiology and fitness-related traits by experimental elevation of thyroxine and triiodothyronine in ovo within the physiological range in great tits (Parus major). We found that elevated yolk TH levels had a sex-specific effect on growth, increasing male and decreasing female growth, relative to controls, and this effect was similar throughout the nestling period. Hatching or fledging success, motor coordination behavior, stress reactivity and resting metabolic rate were not affected by the TH treatment. We conclude that natural variation in maternally derived THs may affect some offspring traits in a wild species. As this is the first study on yolk thyroid hormones in a wild species and population, more such studies are needed to investigate its effects on pre-hatching development, and juvenile and adult fitness before generalizations on the importance of maternally derived yolk thyroid hormones can be made. However, this opens a new, interesting avenue for further research in the field of hormone mediated maternal effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-44
Number of pages7
JournalHormones and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Maternal effects
  • T3
  • T4
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Behavior
  • Metabolism
  • Breeding success
  • Passerines
  • international


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