Interaction between maternal effects: Onset of incubation and offspring sex in two populations of a passerine bird

Alexander V. Badyaev, Geoffrey E. Hill, Michelle L. Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Maternal phenotype and maternal environment can profoundly affect the phenotype and fitness of offspring. Yet the causes of variation in such maternal effects are rarely known. Embryos in avian eggs cannot develop without being incubated and this creates an opportunity for maternal control of duration and onset of offspring development. However, females might adjust the start of incubation (e.g., coincident with the first egg or delayed until after egg-laying) in response to environmental conditions that they experience at the time of breeding. We studied two populations of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) that breed at the climatic extremes of the species' geographical range (Montana and Alabama) and found that in both populations, the timing of incubation onset was closely associated with the bias in the sequence in which male and female eggs were laid within a clutch. When females started incubation with the first egg, they produced sons and daughters in highly biased sequence, when females delayed the onset of incubation until after the egg-laying, the sequence of sons and daughters was not biased. Because in both populations, onset of incubation was associated with the ambient temperature, these results emphasize that maternal effects on offspring can be influenced by ecological conditions experienced by parental generation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)386-390
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2003


  • Ambient temperature
  • Egg-laying order
  • Incubation
  • Maternal effects
  • Sex-ratio

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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