Maternal food supplementation and perceived predation risk modify egg composition and eggshell traits but not offspring condition [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Chiara Morosinotto, Robert L. Thomson, Erkki Korpimäki, Rafael Mateo, and Suvi Ruuskanen

Mothers may vary resource allocation to eggs and embryos, which may affect offspring fitness and prepare them to future environmental conditions. The effects of food availability and predation risk on reproduction have been extensively studied, yet their simultaneous impacts on reproductive investment and offspring early life conditions are still unclear. We experimentally manipulated these key environmental elements using a 2 x 2 full factorial design in wild, free-living pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca), and measured egg composition, eggshell traits and offspring condition. Eggs laid in food-supplemented nests had larger yolks and thicker shells independently of predation risk, while eggs laid in nests exposed to predator cues had lower levels of immunoglobulins, independently of food-supplementation. In nests without predator cues, shell biliverdin content was higher in eggs laid in food-supplemented nests. Incubation was one day shorter in food-supplemented nests and shorter incubation periods were associated with higher hatching success, but there were no direct effects of maternal treatments on hatching success. To investigate the impact of maternal treatment (via egg composition) on the offspring, we performed full brood cross-fostering after hatching to unmanipulated nests. Maternal treatments did not significantly affect body mass and immunoglobulin levels of offspring. Our results suggest that although prenatal maternal cues affected egg composition, these egg-mediated effects may not have detectable consequences for offspring growth or immune capacity. Unpredictable environmental stressors may thus affect parental investment in the eggs, but parental care may level off costs and benefits of differential maternal egg allocation.

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