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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Nov 7;270(1530):2223-32.

Maternal condition, yolk androgens and offspring performance: a supplemental feeding experiment in the lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus).

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  • 1Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK.


It has been proposed that the maternal androgens in avian egg yolk enhance offspring fitness by accelerating growth and improving competitive ability. Because egg quality is strongly influenced by maternal condition, we predicted that females in good condition would produce high-quality eggs with relatively high androgen content. We experimentally enhanced maternal condition by supplementary feeding lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus) during egg formation and compared the concentrations of androstenedione (A4), 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and testosterone (T) in their eggs with those in eggs laid by control females. We also measured circulating levels of T in females immediately after laying. Egg androgens could affect offspring performance directly through chick development and/or indirectly through changes in the competitive ability of a chick relative to its siblings. To avoid confounding these two routes, and to separate effects operating through the egg itself with those operating through experimental changes in parental chick rearing capacity, we fostered eggs from both maternal treatment groups singly into the nests of unmanipulated parents. Contrary to expectation, mothers with experimentally enhanced body condition laid eggs with lower levels of androgens, while exhibiting higher circulating T concentrations post-laying. Despite these lower levels of egg androgen, offspring hatched from eggs laid by mothers in good condition did not show reduced growth or survival when reared in the absence of sibling competition. Our results demonstrate that yolk androgen concentrations vary with the body condition of the female at the time of egg formation and that females in good condition reduced the yolk androgen content of their eggs without altering offspring performance.

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