Sex ratio manipulation in response to maternal condition in pigeons: evidence for pre-ovulatory follicle selection
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- Pike, T.W. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2005) 58: 407. doi:10.1007/s00265-005-0931-9
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A number of recent reports have documented offspring sex ratio biases in birds. However, to date the potential mechanisms that have been put forward to explain the proximate basis for these deviations are entirely speculative. Using a captive population of domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica), I tested the hypothesis that mothers in relatively poor physical condition should overproduce daughters by manipulating maternal body condition around the time of egg laying by continuous egg removal and differing feeding regimes. During treatment, females were fed a controlled quantity of food. This, combined with the high energetic costs of repeated egg production caused a significant reduction in maternal body weight. In contrast, during control when food was available ad libitum, maternal body weight did not decline, despite repeated egg production. No significant deviation from parity was evident in the sex ratio of either the first or second eggs during control, whereas during treatment a significant female bias was evident in not only the first egg, but also in the second egg. The absence of single-egg clutches, the rarity of infertile eggs and the lack of laying delays between eggs strongly suggests that the mechanism of sex ratio adjustment in pigeons occurs prior to ovulation. The highly skewed sex-distribution within the two-egg clutches and the unexpectedly large amount of variation in the yolk weight of eggs produced during treatment (but not control) are consistent with the expectations of pre-ovulatory selective resorption of ‘wrong’ sex ovarian follicles.