The cost of egg production: increased egg production reduces future fitness in gulls


  • Ruedi G. Nager,

  • Pat Monaghan,

  • David C. Houston

Ruedi G. Nager, Pat Monaghan and David C. Houston, Ornithology Group, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland, U.K. E-mail:


Measurements of costs of reproduction are essential for our understanding of the evolution of reproductive effort. While in birds the effects of increased chick-rearing effort on subsequent survival and fecundity have been relatively well studied experimentally, costs associated with increased egg-production effort have received relatively little attention. We experimentally increased the egg-production effort of individually marked Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and followed their breeding performance in the next year. In the season following increased egg production, females, but not males, were less likely to be resighted in the study plot and those that did return were less likely to produce a clutch compared to control birds. It is unclear whether the observed effect on local return rate represents differential survival, differences in breeding propensity or differences in dispersal between experimental and control females. In any event, all of these would adversely affect the fitness of experimental females. In addition, those experimental females that did breed invested less in egg production the following season, which again is likely to affect breeding performance. Thus, this study provides evidence that there is an inter-brood trade-off between current egg-production effort and future fitness in birds.