Do mothers regulate facultative and obligate siblicide by differentially provisioning eggs with hormones?


  • Hugh Drummond,

  • Cristina Rodríguez,

  • Hubert Schwabl

H. Drummond (correspondence) and C. Rodríguez, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, A.P. 70-275, 04510 D.F., Mexico. Email: – H. Schwabl, School of Biological Sciences, Center for Reproductive Biology and Program in Neuroscience, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4236, USA.


We examined androgens in clutches of two booby species that differ in their sibling conflict. Blue-footed booby Sula nebouxii chicks show an aggression-submission relationship, aggression is normally moderate and siblicide is facultative. Brown booby Sula leucogaster chicks show an aggression-aggression relationship, aggression of both chicks can be relentless and siblicide is obligate. The parental favoritism hypothesis predicts that egg mass, yolk mass and yolk androgens should decline with laying order less in the blue-footed booby than in the brown booby, to promote the survival of the former's junior chick. The eggs of the blue-footed booby had higher yolk concentrations of 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and lower concentrations of testosterone (T); both species had similarly high yolk concentrations of androstenedione (A). Intra-clutch variation in yolk DHT, T and A failed to support our predictions. In both species, first and second eggs showed similar concentrations of all three hormones and were of similar size, although in the blue-footed booby (only) yolk masses declined with laying order. Brown booby mothers make junior chicks vulnerable to siblicide by hatching them 5 d after their broodmates, but not by differential allocation of egg androgens or nutrients. Blue-footed booby mothers appear to prepare junior chicks for thriving in a subordinate non-provocative role by hatching them 4 d after their broodmates and providing them with 10% less yolk. To orchestrate agonism within the brood, these boobies may rely more on hatch intervals and yolk provision than on androgens.