Maternal allocation strategies and differential effects of yolk carotenoids on the phenotype and viability of yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) chicks in relation to sex and laying order


Nicola Saino, Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano, Via Celoria 26, I-20133 Milano, Italy.
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Egg quality may mediate maternal allocation strategies according to progeny sex. In vertebrates, carotenoids have important physiological roles during embryonic and post-natal life, but the consequences of variation in yolk carotenoids for offspring phenotype in oviparous species are largely unknown. In yellow-legged gulls, yolk carotenoids did not vary with embryo sex in combination with egg laying date, order and mass. Yolk lutein supplementation enhanced the growth of sons from first eggs but depressed that of sons from last eggs, enhanced survival of daughters late in the season, and promoted immunity of male chicks and chicks from small eggs. Lack of variation in egg carotenoids in relation to sex and egg features, and the contrasting effects of lutein on sons and daughters, do not support the hypothesis of optimal sex-related egg carotenoid allocation. Carotenoids transferred to the eggs may rather result from a trade-off between opposing effects on sons or daughters.