Maternal effects as drivers of sibling competition in a parent–offspring conflict context? An experimental test

Thomas Merkling, Charlotte Perrot, Fabrice Helfenstein, Jean-Baptiste Ferdy, Laurent Gaillard, Emilie Lefol, Emmanuelle Voisin, Scott A. Hatch, Etienne Danchin & Pierrick Blanchard

Résumé Maternal effects occur when the mother's phenotype influences her offspring's phenotype. In birds, differential allocation in egg yolk components can allow mothers to compensate for the competitive disadvantage of junior chicks. We hypothesize that the parent–older chick conflict peaks at intermediate conditions: parents benefit from the younger chick(s) survival, but its death benefits the older chick in terms of growth and survival. We thus expect maternal compensation to follow a bell-shaped pattern in relation to environmental conditions. We studied a black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) population where previous results revealed increased allocation of yolk testosterone in younger as compared to older chicks in intermediate conditions, in line with our theoretical framework. We therefore predicted a maternally induced increase in aggressiveness, growth, and survival for younger chicks born in intermediate environmental conditions. Controlling for parental effects and chick sex, we manipulated food availability before egg laying to create a situation with intermediate (Unfed group) and good (Fed group) environmental conditions. Within each feeding treatment, we further created experimental broods where the natural hatching order was reversed to maximize our chances to observe an effect of feeding treatment on the younger chicks' aggressiveness. As predicted, we found that chick aggressiveness was higher in younger chicks born from the Unfed group (i.e., in intermediate environmental conditions), but only when they were put in a senior position, in reversed broods. Predictions on growth and survival were not confirmed. Mothers thus seem to favor the competitiveness of their younger chick in intermediate conditions via egg yolk components, but our study also suggests that hatching asynchrony need to be small for maternal compensation to be efficient. We emphasize the need for further studies investigating other chick behaviors (e.g., begging) and focusing on the relative role of different yolk components in shaping parent–offspring conflict over sibling competition.
Mots-clés Brood reduction, benefit/cost ratio, facultative siblicide, food availability, phenotypic plasticity, yolk testosterone
Citation Merkling, T., Perrot, C., Helfenstein, F., Ferdy, J. B., Gaillard, L., Lefol, E., Voisin, E., Hatch, S. A., Danchin, E., & Blanchard, P. (2016). Maternal effects as drivers of sibling competition in a parent–offspring conflict context? An experimental test. Ecology and Evolution, 6, 3699-3710.
Type Article de périodique (Anglais)
Date de publication 3-5-2016
Nom du périodique Ecology and Evolution
Volume 6
Pages 3699-3710