Effects of egg albumen removal on yellow-legged gull chick phenotype


†Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: andrea.bonisoli@unimi.it


  • 1Egg size is an important maternal trait that can have major consequences on offspring phenotype. However, the effects of the variation of different components of cleidoic eggs have been little investigated.
  • 2Here, we addressed whether a reduction of the relative egg albumen content within the natural range of variation affects viability, time to hatching, early post-natal begging displays, morphology and immune response of yellow-legged gull Larus michahellis chicks.
  • 3Egg mass strongly positively predicted chick size and mass at all ages, while time to hatching positively predicted tarsus length and immune response, irrespective of albumen removal. Variation in time to hatching may thus affect immune system maturation.
  • 4Albumen removal resulted in a lower embryonic viability and increased time to hatching of individual eggs. The probability that an egg originated a chick surviving until 8 days of age increased with original egg mass among controls, but not among chicks hatching from eggs with reduced albumen content (‘albumen chicks’).
  • 5Begging rate increased with laying order among albumen chicks while it decreased among controls. Concomitantly, begging rate decreased with egg mass among controls while it did not vary among albumen chicks. Surprisingly, albumen removal did not affect body mass or tarsus length except at 8 days of age, when control chicks were lighter than albumen chicks.
  • 6In conclusion, our study indicates that a reduction of the relative egg albumen content can have complex effects on offspring development, behaviour and viability of a semiprecocial bird, suggesting that the relative albumen content of the eggs represents an important mechanism of maternal effects.