Yolk carotenoids increase fledging success in great tit nestlings

Marri, Viviana ; Richner, Heinz

In: Oecologia, 2014, vol. 176, no. 2, p. 371-377

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    Avian mothers can influence offspring phenotype through the deposition of different compounds into eggs, such as antibodies, hormones and antioxidants. The concentration of carotenoids in yolk is larger than in maternal plasma, suggesting an important role of these compounds for offspring development. Since carotenoids have to be acquired from the diet, they may be available in limiting amounts to the mothers. Here, we investigated the role of egg carotenoids for offspring growth by experimentally increasing the concentration of yolk lutein, the main carotenoid in great tit (Parus major) yolk. We subsequently measured body condition, oxidative stress, immune response, plumage colouration and fledging success. Lutein increased body mass soon after hatching and fledging success, but did not affect tarsus length, oxidative stress, immune response and plumage colouration. The higher content of yolk lutein could have increased body mass by reducing oxidative stress caused by high metabolic rates of rapidly growing embryos or by promoting cell differentiation and proliferation. The positive effect of lutein on fledging success seems to be mediated by its influence on body mass 3days post-hatch, since these two traits were correlated. The finding that our treatment did not affect traits measured later in the nestling period, except for fledging success, suggests that yolk lutein has short-term effects that are essential to increase survival until fledging. Our study shows the positive effect of yolk lutein on offspring survival in the great tit, and therefore suggests an important role of carotenoid-mediated maternal effects.