Dehydration during egg production alters egg composition and yolk immune function

George A. Brusch, Benoit Heulin, Dale Denardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Parent-offspring conflicts occur when resources are limited for allocation, and, historically, energy has been the primary currency of focus when examining these trade-offs. Water is a fundamental resource that has received far less consideration for parent-offspring conflicts. Previous research suggests that, when water is limited, reproductive females are compromised in favor of developing embryos. However, these studies limited their assessments to standard metrics such as clutch size and mass. We tested the hypothesis that the mother-offspring conflict over limited water resources leads to finer scale morphological and physiological impacts on the eggs in Children's pythons (Antaresia childreni). We predicted that water deprivation during gravidity alters female investment into her eggs, impacting egg water content and shell development. Additionally, we predicted that the yolk in these dehydrated eggs would have enhanced immune performance metrics, as has been documented in dehydrated adults. We found that eggs from water-deprived females were dehydrated as indicated by reduced percent water and greater yolk osmolality compared to eggs from females that received ad libitum water. We also found that eggs from dehydrated mothers had thinner shells and higher water loss rates. The impacts were not entirely negative as dehydrated eggs had higher antimicrobial capabilities. Also, thinner and more permeability eggshells might allow for elevated rates of rehydration from nest substrate. Overall, by examining an array of egg traits, we demonstrated that dehydration of gravid females impacts the eggs, not just the females as previously reported. As a result, the mother-offspring conflicts are indeed two-sided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-74
Number of pages7
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology -Part A : Molecular and Integrative Physiology
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Hydration
  • Immunocompetence
  • Innate immunity
  • Maternal-offspring conflict
  • Osmotic challenge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology


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