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Keywords:

  • androstenedione;
  • colony size;
  • differential allocation;
  • maternal effects;
  • parental investment;
  • sexual selection;
  • yolk androgens

Abstract

Maternal effects such as androgen in avian eggs can mediate evolutionary responses to selection, allowing manipulation of offspring phenotype and promoting trans-generational adaptive effects. We tested the predictions of two adaptive hypotheses that have been proposed to explain female variation in yolk androgen allocation in birds, using the barn swallow Hirundo rustica as a model. We found no support for the first hypothesis proposing that yolk androgen varies as a function of breeding density in order to prepare offspring for different breeding densities. However, we found experimental support for the hypothesis that female yolk androgen allocation depends on mate attractiveness and that it constitutes an example of differential allocation. Females increased the concentration of androgens in their eggs when mated to males with experimentally elongated tails. Female phenotypic quality as measured by arrival date and clutch size was positively related to egg androgen concentration, consistent with the hypothesis that this is a costly investment, constrained by female condition. We found correlative evidence of a direct relationship between egg androgen concentration and performance of offspring as measured by mass increase.