Esther M. A. Langen, Vivian C. Goerlich-Jansson, and Nikolaus von Engelhardt
The social environment of breeding females can affect their phenotype, with potential adaptive maternal effects on offspring that experience a similar environment. We housed Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) females in two group sizes (pairs versus groups of four) and studied the effects on their offspring under matched and mismatched conditions. We measured F1 body mass, reproduction, and plasma levels of androgens and corticosterone. F1 group housing led to an increase in body mass. In addition, F1 group housing had a positive effect on mass in daughters of pair-housed P0 females only, which were heaviest under mismatched conditions. At the time of egg collection for the F2 generation, F1 group-housed females were heavier, irrespective of the P0 treatment. F1 females in groups laid heavier eggs, with higher hatching success, and produced heavier offspring, most likely a maternal effect of F1 mass. F1 plasma hormones were affected by neither the P0 nor the F1 social environment. These results contrasted with effects in the P0 generation (reported previously), in which plasma hormone levels, but not mass, differed between social environments. This may be due to changes in adult sex ratios as P0 females were housed with males, whereas F1 females encountered males only during mating. Our study demonstrates potentially relevant mismatch effects of the social environment on F1 body mass and maternal effects on F2 offspring, but further study is needed to understand their adaptive significance and physiological mechanisms.