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Keywords:

  • Growth rate;
  • ossification;
  • skeleton;
  • eggshell;
  • birds;
  • altricial;
  • precocial

Abstract

Some studies of birds suggest that the development of the skeleton may invoke a constraint on the rate of postnatal growth. Other studies have shown that the eggshell is the major source of calcium for skeletal development of the embryo. To test whether avian growth rate is indeed associated with different patterns of skeletal development, we compared the degree of skeletal ossification of the long bones of the wing and the leg of one slowly growing precocial species (quail Coturnix japonica) with that of two rapidly growing altricial species (starling Sturnus vulgaris and fieldfare Turdus pilaris). The degree of skeletal ossification of the long bones of the wings and legs of lines of quails that had undergone long-term selection for high- and low-growth rate, respectively, also was compared with a non-selected control line. Next, the fine structure of the inner eggshell surface (mammillary layer) of both pre- and post-incubated eggs, i.e. before and after embryonic development/calcium removal was compared. The data show that the skeleton of the more rapidly growing species and lines was less ossified than that of the more slowly growing ones. This difference appeared to be associated with different rates of calcium removal from the eggshell. Removal was more extensive in eggs of quail than in eggs of starling and fieldfare, i.e. more extensive in shells with a high number of mammillary tips per unit of surface area than in shells with a lower number. It is therefore concluded that growth rate is of fundamental importance for the pattern of skeletal development. Moreover, the mammillary density varies between different bird species, it is suggested, in order to support the different rates of calcium removal by developing embryos.