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Zoology (Jena). 2005;108(2):81-95. Epub 2005 Apr 18.

A comparative study of embryonic development of some bird species with different patterns of postnatal growth.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Environmental Science, Kalmar University, Kalmar SE-391 82, Sweden.


Some studies show that birds with high postnatal growth rates (e.g. altricial species) are characterized by a rapid early development of "supply" organs, such as digestive organs. Birds with low postnatal growth rates (e.g. precocial species) exhibit a slower early development of these organs and a more rapid early development of other "demand" organs, such as brain, muscles, skeleton and feathers. To test whether these differences can be traced back to early embryonic development and whether they can be associated with changes in developmental timing, i.e. heterochrony, we compared embryos of the precocial quail and the altricial fieldfare, two bird species with low and high postnatal growth rates, respectively. We used classical staging techniques that use developmental landmarks to categorize embryonic maturity as well as morphological measurements. These techniques were combined with immune detection of muscle specific proteins in the somites. Our data showed that the anlagen of the head, brain and eyes develop earlier in the quail than in the fieldfare in contrast to the gut which develops earlier in the fieldfare than in the quail. Our data also showed that the quail and the fieldfare displayed different rates of myotome formation in the somites which contribute to muscle formation in the limbs and thorax. We believe these observations are connected with important differences in neonatal characteristics, such as the size of the brain, eyes, organs for locomotion and digestion. This leads us to the conclusion that selection for late ontogenetic characteristics can alter early embryonic development and that growth rate is of fundamental importance for the patterning of avian embryonic development. It also appears that this comparative system offers excellent opportunities to test hypotheses about heterochrony.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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