, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 357-365
Date: 06 Nov 2004

Intra-specific interactions influence egg composition in the lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus)

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Abstract

Egg composition, which is under maternal control, can have a profound effect on offspring fitness. The presence of maternal testosterone and carotenoids in avian egg yolk, for example, is thought to enhance the development and competitive ability of the offspring and protect the hatching and growing chick against oxidative stress. Egg quality often differs between females and such variation can be due to differences in maternal social environment, e.g. breeding density. However, this is confounded by the possibility that the quality of individuals breeding in high- or low-density areas may vary. We tested if maternal social environment influences egg composition in a colonial seabird, the lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus). To control for confounding effects of female quality, we experimentally manipulated maternal social environment during egg formation. We increased the frequency of intra-specific interactions (i.e. aggressive encounters with conspecifics other than nest mates) in which the females were involved, by placing an elevated platform in their territory. Females that took part in more intra-specific interactions produced a heavier last egg, but the yolk testosterone concentration in eggs laid by control and experimental females did not differ. Differences in yolk testosterone concentration in relation to embryo sex were found neither in the control nor in the experimental group. In contrast, within the control group, eggs with a male embryo contained more carotenoids than eggs with a female embryo. Moreover, experimental females that had been involved in more intra-specific interactions produced female eggs with higher carotenoid levels compared to female eggs of control birds. An experimental increase in carotenoid levels was not observed in eggs containing a male embryo. Our results suggest that intra-specific interactions experienced by female birds during egg formation can influence conditions for embryonic development.

Communicated by J. Graves