, Volume 63, Issue 6, pp 869-882
Date: 26 Feb 2009

Egg composition in relation to social environment and maternal physiological condition in the collared flycatcher

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Offspring survival can be influenced by resources allocated to eggs, which in turn may be affected by the environmental factors the mother experiences during egg formation. In this study, we investigated whether experimentally elevated social interactions and number of neighbouring pairs influence yolk composition of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis). Social challenge was simulated by presentation of a conspecific female. Experimental females spent more time near the cage and produced eggs with higher androgen concentration, but local breeding density did not affect yolk androgen level. Moreover, we found that females exposed to more intra-specific interactions and those that bred at higher density produced eggs with smaller yolk. These females may be more constrained in foraging time due to more frequent social encounters, and there might be increased competition for food at areas of higher density. In contrast, the present study did not reveal any evidence for the effect of social environment on yolk antioxidant and immunoglobulin levels. However, we found that yolk lutein and immunoglobulin concentrations were related to the female’s H/L ratio. Also, yolk lutein and α-tocopherol levels showed a seasonal increase and were positively related to the female’s plasma carotenoid level. Mothers may incur significant costs by transferring these compounds into the eggs, thus only females in good physiological condition and those that lay eggs later, when food is probably more abundant, could allocate higher amounts to the eggs without compromising their defence mechanisms. Our results suggest that environmental circumstances during egg formation can influence conditions for embryonic development.

Communicated by J. Graves