Elevated corticosterone during egg production elicits increased maternal investment and promotes nestling growth in a wild songbird

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Abstract

Glucocorticoids circulating in breeding birds during egg production accumulate within eggs, and may provide a potent form of maternal effect on offspring phenotype. However, whether these steroids affect offspring development remains unclear. Here, we employed a non-invasive technique that experimentally elevated the maternal transfer of corticosterone to eggs in a wild population of house wrens. Feeding corticosterone-injected mealworms to free-living females prior to and during egg production increased the number of eggs that females produced and increased corticosterone concentrations in egg yolks. This treatment also resulted in an increase in the amount of yolk allocated to eggs. Offspring hatching from these eggs begged for food at a higher rate than control offspring and eventually attained increased prefledging body condition, a trait predictive of their probability of recruitment as breeding adults in the study population. Our results indicate that an increase in maternal glucocorticoids within the physiological range can enhance maternal investment and offspring development.

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