In egg-laying animals, mothers can influence the development of their offspring via the suite of biochemicals they incorporate into the nourishing yolk (e.g. lipids, hormones). However, the long-lasting fitness consequences of this early nutritional environment have often proved elusive. Here, we show that the colorful carotenoid pigments that female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) deposit into egg yolks influence embryonic and nestling survival, the sex ratio of fledged offspring, and the eventual ornamental coloration displayed by their offspring as adults. Mothers experimentally supplemented with dietary carotenoids prior to egg-laying incorporated more carotenoids into eggs, which, due to the antioxidant activity of carotenoids, rendered their embryos less susceptible to free-radical attack during development. These eggs were subsequently more likely to hatch, fledge offspring, produce more sons than daughters, and produce sons who exhibited more brightly colored carotenoid-based beak pigmentation. Provisioned mothers also acquired more colorful beaks, which directly predicted levels of carotenoids found in eggs, thus indicating that these pigments may function not only as physiological 'damage-protectants' in adults and offspring but also as morphological signals of maternal reproductive capabilities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics