The evolution of sexual size dimorphism in the house finch. V. Maternal effects

Alexander V. Badyaev, Michelle C. Beck, Geoffrey E. Hill, Linda A. Whittingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The phenotype of a mother and the environment that she provides might differentially affect the phenotypes of her sons and daughters, leading to change in sexual size dimorphism. Whereas these maternal effects should evolve to accommodate the adaptations of both the maternal and offspring generations, the mechanisms by which this is accomplished are rarely known. In birds, females adjust the onset of incubation (coincident with the first egg or after all eggs are laid) in response to the environment during breeding, and thus, indirectly, determine the duration of offspring growth. In the two house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) populations that breed at the extremes of the species' distribution (Montana and Alabama), females experience highly distinct climatic conditions during nesting. We show that in close association with these conditions, females adjusted jointly the onset of incubation and the sequence in which they produced male and female eggs and consequently modified the growth of sons and daughters. The onset of incubation in newly breeding females closely tracked ambient temperature in a pattern consistent with the maintenance of egg viability. Because of the very different climates in Montana and Alabama, females in these populations showed the opposite patterns of seasonal change in incubation onset and the opposite sex bias in egg-laying order. In females with breeding experience, incubation onset and sex bias in laying order were closely linked regardless of the climatic variation. In nests in which incubation began with the onset of egg laying, the first-laid eggs were mostly females in Montana, but mostly males in Alabama. Because in both populations, male, but not female, embryos grew faster when exposed to longer incubation, the sex-bias produced highly divergent sizes of male and female juveniles between the populations. Overall, the compensatory interaction between the onset of incubation and the sex-biased laying order achieved a compromise between maternal and offspring adaptations and contributed to rapid morphological divergence in sexual dimorphism between populations of the house finch breeding at the climatic extremes of the species range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)384-398
Number of pages15
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2003


  • Carpodacus mexicanus
  • Egg-laying order
  • Growth
  • Incubation
  • Maternal effects
  • Sex ratio

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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