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Egg development time in the Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata varies with laying order and clutch size



As female birds are able to lay no more than a single egg each day, in those species producing larger clutches the first laid eggs may get a developmental head-start over later eggs in the clutch. All other things being equal, the differential pattern of development across the clutch may contribute to hatching asynchrony and subsequent inequity in the competition between brood mates, and ultimately increase variance in the quality and fitness of first- and last-laid offspring. It has been suggested that females might allocate resources differently across the laying sequence to moderate the developmental rate and hatching time of different embryos. We tested this theory in the Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata, a common model species for investigating maternal effects in birds. We removed 758 eggs from 160 nests shortly after they were laid and used artificial incubators to control for parental effects and monitor hatching times. Eggs from larger clutches consistently hatched sooner than those from average-sized clutches, demonstrating that the intrinsic properties of an egg can alter the developmental time of embryos. There were also differences in the development time of eggs across the laying sequence, but these patterns were weaker, inconsistent and unrelated to sequential investment across the laying sequence in a straightforward way. This study indicates that maternal resource allocation to eggs across the laying sequence and across clutch sizes can influence development times and play a potentially important role in determining the competitive dynamics of broods.