, Volume 165, Issue 3, pp 593–604 | Cite as

Do purely capital layers exist among flying birds? Evidence of exogenous contribution to arctic-nesting common eider eggs

  • Édith Sénéchal
  • Joël BêtyEmail author
  • H. Grant Gilchrist
  • Keith A. Hobson
  • Sarah E. Jamieson
Physiological ecology - Original Paper


The strategy of relying extensively on stored resources for reproduction has been termed capital breeding and is in contrast to income breeding, where needs of reproduction are satisfied by exogenous (dietary) resources. Most species likely fall somewhere between these two extremes, and the position of an organism along this gradient can influence several key life-history traits. Common eiders (Somateria mollissima) are the only flying birds that are still typically considered pure capital breeders, suggesting that they depend exclusively on endogenous reserves to form their eggs and incubate. We investigated the annual and seasonal variation in contributions of endogenous and exogenous resources to egg formation in eiders breeding at the East Bay colony in the Canadian Arctic. We collected prey items along with females and their eggs during various stages of breeding and used two complementary analytical approaches: body reserve dynamics and stable isotope [δ13C, δ15N] mixing models. Indices of protein reserves remained stable from pre-laying to post-laying stages, while lipid reserves declined significantly during laying. Similarly, stable isotope analyses indicated that (1) exogenous nutrients derived from marine invertebrates strongly contributed to the formation of lipid-free egg constituents, and (2) yolk lipids were constituted mostly from endogenous lipids. We also found evidence of seasonal variation in the use of body reserves, with early breeders using proportionally more exogenous proteins to form each egg than late breeders. Based on these results, we reject the hypothesis that eiders are pure capital layers. In these flying birds, the fitness costs of a strict capital breeding strategy, such as temporary loss of flight capability and limitation of clutch and egg size, may outweigh benefits such as a reduction in egg predation rate.


Capital breeding Somateria mollissima Nutrient allocation Stable isotopes Takeoff capabilities 



This study was supported by (alphabetical order): Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada), Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Network of Centers of Excellence of Canada ArcticNet, Northern Scientific Training Program (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP), and Université du Québec à Rimouski. We also thank the East Bay crews for their valuable work in the field, F. Hartog and O. D’Amours for their diving expertise, and B. Boucher and R. Chabot for their help in marine invertebrate identification. B.X. Mora-Alvarez assisted with preparation of stable isotope samples which were analyzed by M. Stocki at the Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan. M. Fast provided useful comments on the final version of the manuscript. The Canadian Council on Animal Care has approved the study.

Supplementary material

442_2010_1853_MOESM1_ESM.doc (92 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 92 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Édith Sénéchal
    • 1
  • Joël Bêty
    • 1
    Email author
  • H. Grant Gilchrist
    • 2
  • Keith A. Hobson
    • 3
  • Sarah E. Jamieson
    • 4
  1. 1.Chaire de recherche du Canada en conservation des écosystèmes nordiques et Centre d’études nordiquesUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada
  2. 2.National Wildlife Research Centre, Environment CanadaOttawaCanada
  3. 3.Environment CanadaSaskatoonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Biological Sciences, Centre for Wildlife EcologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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