Multiple pathways of maternal effects in black-headed gull eggs: constraint and adaptive compensatory adjustment


  • Present address: J. D. Blount, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter in Cornwall, UK

Dr T.G.G. Groothuis, Kerklaan 30, P.O. Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands.
Tel.: +0031 50 3637117; fax: +0031 50 3632148;


We investigated in the black-headed gull whether female deposition of antioxidants and immunoglobulins (enhancing early immune function), and testosterone (suppressing immune function and increasing early competitive skills) correlate suggesting that evolution has favoured the mutual adjustment of different pathways for maternal effects. We also took egg mass, the position of the egg in the laying sequence and offspring sex into account, as these affect offspring survival. Yolk antioxidant and immunoglobulin concentrations decreased across the laying order, while yolk testosterone concentrations increased. This may substantially handicap the immune defence of last-hatched chicks. The decrease in antioxidant levels was greater when mothers had a low body mass and when the increase in testosterone concentrations was relatively large. This suggests that female black-headed gulls are constrained in the deposition of antioxidants in last-laid eggs and compensate for this by enhanced testosterone deposition. The latter may be adaptive since it re-allocates the chick's investment from costly immune function to growth and competitive skills, necessary to overcome the consequences of hatching late from an egg of reduced quality.