In birds, mothers can affect their offspring's phenotype and thereby survival via egg composition. It is not well known to what extent and time-scales environmental variation in resource availability, either via resource constrains or adaptive adjustment to predicted rearing conditions, influences maternal effects. We experimentally studied whether egg and yolk mass and yolk hormone levels respond to short-term changes in food availability during laying in wild great tits (Parus major). Our treatment groups were: 1) food supplementation (mealworms) from the 1st until the last egg; 2) food supplementation from the 1st first until the 5th egg, where the effect of cessation of the supplementary food treatment could also be studied; 3) no food supplementation (controls). We analysed both nutritional resources (egg, yolk and albumen mass), and the important developmental signals, yolk androgens (testosterone and androstenedione), and for the first time in a wild population, yolk thyroid hormones (thyroxine and 3,5,3’-triiodothyronine). Egg mass is a costly resource for females, androgens most likely non-costly signals, whereas thyroid hormones may be costly signals, requiring environmental iodine. In the food supplemented group egg, yolk and albumen mass increased rapidly relative to controls and when food supplementation was halted, egg and albumen mass decreased, indicating rapid responses to resource availability. Yolk androgen and thyroid hormone levels were not affected by food supplementation during laying. Thyroxine showed an increase over the laying sequence and its biological meaning needs further study. The rapid changes in egg mass to variation in within-clutch food availability suggest energetic/protein/nutrient constrains on egg formation. The lack of a response in yolk hormones suggest that perhaps in this species the short-term changes in resource availability during egg laying do not predict offspring rearing conditions, or (for thyroid hormones) do not cause systemic changes in circulating hormones, and hence do not affect maternal signaling.
Ruuskanen, S., Darras, V. M., de Vries, B., Visser, M. E., & Groothuis, T. G. G. (2016). Experimental manipulation of food availability leads to short-term intra-clutch adjustment in egg mass but not in yolk androgen or thyroid hormones. Journal of Avian Biology, 47(1), 36-46. https://doi.org/10.1111/jav.00728