Heritable variation in maternal yolk hormone transfer in a wild bird population.

Barbara Tschirren, Joanna Sendecka, Ton G G Groothuis, Lars Gustafsson, Blandine Doligez

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Differential reproductive investment by the mother can critically influence offspring development and phenotype, and strong selection is therefore expected to act on such maternal effects. Although a genetic basis is a prerequisite for phenotypic traits to respond to selection and thus to evolve, we still know very little about the extent of heritable variation in maternal effects in natural populations. Here, we present the first estimates of intrafemale repeatability across breeding seasons and estimates of heritability of hormone-mediated maternal effects in a wild population of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis). We found that maternal yolk testosterone (T) concentrations, yolk mass, and egg mass were moderately to highly repeatable within females across years, whereas intrafemale consistency of maternal yolk androstenedione (A4) deposition was low yet statistically significant. Furthermore, maternal yolk T transfer, yolk mass, and egg mass were significantly heritable, whereas yolk A4 transfer was not. These results strongly suggest that two major maternal yolk androgens are differentially regulated by genes and the environment. Selection on heritable variation in maternal yolk T deposition has the potential to shape the rate and direction of phenotypic change in offspring traits and can thereby accelerate or impede the response to selection in natural populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-564
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Animal Ecology (Closed 2011) (011012001)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology


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