Female variation in allocation of steroid hormones, antioxidants and fatty acids: a multilevel analysis in a wild passerine bird
The environment where an embryo develops can be influenced by components of maternal origin, which can shape offspring phenotypes and therefore maternal fitness. In birds that produce more than one egg per clutch, females differ in the concentration of components they allocate into the yolk along the laying sequence. However, identification of processes that shape female yolk allocation and thus offspring phenotype still remains a major challenge within evolutionary ecology. A way to increase our understanding is by acknowledging that allocation patterns can differ depending on the level of analysis, such as the population versus the among-female (within-population) level. We employed mixed models to analyze at both levels the variation in allocation along the laying sequence of four steroid hormones, three antioxidants, and four groups of fatty acids present in the egg yolks of wild great tits (Parus major). We also quantified repeatabilities for each component to study female consistency. At a population level, the concentrations/proportions of five yolk components varied along the laying sequence, implying that the developmental environment is different for offspring developing in first versus last eggs. Females varied substantially in the mean allocation of components and in their plasticity along the laying sequence. For most components, these two parameters were negatively correlated. Females were also remarkably repeatable in their allocation. Overall, our data emphasize the need to account for female variation in yolk allocation along the laying sequence at multiple levels, as variation at a population level is underpinned by different individual patterns. Our findings also highlight the importance of considering both levels of analysis in future studies investigating the causes and fitness consequences of yolk compounds. Finally, our results on female repeatability confirm that analyzing one egg per nest is a suitable way to address the consequences of yolk resource deposition for the offspring.
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