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Mother birds know best -- even before birth

Date:
March 27, 2010
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
Mother birds communicate with their developing chicks before they even hatch by leaving them messages in the egg, new research has found.

New research reveals that mother birds communicate with their developing chicks before they even hatch by leaving them messages in the egg.
Credit: Fernando Trabanco

Mother birds communicate with their developing chicks before they even hatch by leaving them messages in the egg, new research by a team from the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, has found.

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By changing conditions within the egg, canary mothers leave a message for their developing chicks about the life they will face after birth. In response, nestlings adjust the development of their begging behaviour.

If chicks get a message that they will be reared by generous parents then they beg more vigorously for food after hatching. But chicks that are destined to be raised by meaner parents end up being much less demanding.

By attending to messages in the egg, nestlings gain weight more rapidly because they match their demands to the parents' supply of food, and can avoid either begging too little or wasting effort on unrewarded begging.

The Cambridge team made the discovery using fostering experiments, exchanging eggs between canaries' nests so that the chicks grew up in an environment that they were not expecting.

"This work changes our understanding of the pre-natal environment in birds," says Dr Rebecca Kilner of the University of Cambridge, who led the research.

"We've known for about twenty years that maternal substances in the egg can influence how chicks develop, but the common assumption is that they are a means by which mothers manipulate their offspring in a way that suits the mother more than the chick.

"What we've shown is the reverse: these substances are actually there to suit the chick. If we muck up the message in the egg experimentally, it is the chick that is penalised directly rather than the mother."

The work was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, and is published in Science on March 12, 2010.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Camilla A. Hinde, Rufus A. Johnstone, and Rebecca M. Kilner. Parent-Offspring Conflict and Coadaptation. Science, 2010: 327 (5971): 1373-1376 DOI: 10.1126/science.1186056

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Mother birds know best -- even before birth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311141209.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2010, March 27). Mother birds know best -- even before birth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311141209.htm
University of Cambridge. "Mother birds know best -- even before birth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311141209.htm (accessed April 21, 2015).

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