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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Sep 22;271(1551):1923-8.

Prenatal developmental conditions have long-term effects on offspring fecundity.

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Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK.


Maternal effects, in which differences in parental state cause differences in offspring fitness, are important in trade-offs influencing an individual's optimal reproductive strategy. In zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) we manipulated the nutritional state for four weeks before the start of breeding through protein supplementation. Zebra finches were kept on identical diets during the rest of the experiment. We then tested the effects of maternal state on offspring size, survival and fecundity. In order to separate the effects of maternal state occurring through egg production, incubation and chick-rearing, we used a cross-fostering experiment. We show that a protein-rich diet prior to laying improved maternal body weight prior to breeding compared with birds on a protein-poor diet. Poorer maternal state prior to breeding gave rise to offspring with lower fecundity than offspring from birds in a better nutritional state. Maternal state is thought to affect the conditions developing offspring experience through the bird's ability to produce and incubate eggs. Male and female embryos differed in their responses to conditions at different developmental stages. This shows that embryonic developmental conditions and sex differences in vulnerability to these conditions need to be incorporated into future models of selection, life-history evolution and sex-ratio theory.

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