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J Exp Biol. 2018 Jul 19. pii: jeb.178988. doi: 10.1242/jeb.178988. [Epub ahead of print]

How the egg rolls: a morphological analysis of avian egg shape in the context of displacement dynamics.

Author information

1
Animal Behavior and Conservation Program, Department of Psychology, Hunter College, City University of New York, New York, 10065, USA ianr.hays@gmail.com.
2
Department of Animal Biology, School of Integrative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois 61801, USA.

Abstract

Very little is known about how morphology affects the motion, spatial stability, and resulting viability of avian eggs. The limited existing research focuses on the uniquely pyriform egg shapes found in the Alcidae bird family. This unusual shell shape was originally thought to suppress displacement and prevent egg loss on the cliffside nesting habitat of the Uria genus. Unfortunately, these early studies never isolated or quantified the specific morphological features (elongation, asymmetry, and conicality) of these pyriform eggs, which limits their applicability to other taxa and has hampered a robust proof of concept. We isolated each feature as an enumerated variable, produced model 3D printed eggs with incremental expressions of a single variable and then with all three features covarying simultaneously. Recorded motion (egg-rolling) trials were conducted to test the individual and combined effects of each morphological characteristic on displacement over a range of inclines representative of the conditions found in nesting habitats. Increasing elongation and asymmetry significantly increased displacement, whereas increased conicality decreased displacement in the single-variable egg models. In the multivariable egg models, only conicality consistently suppressed displacement, while lower levels of asymmetry significantly increased displacement. Our findings broadly support previous studies' assertions of the adaptive value of the pyriform eggs while providing methodology and comparative data for future analyses of the interactions between nesting habitat, behavior, and egg shape, beyond the confines of a handful of focal species.

KEYWORDS:

Alcidea; Avian eggs; Morphology; Movement; Rolling; Uria aalge

PMID:
30026240
DOI:
10.1242/jeb.178988

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