As The Planet Heats Up, Fairy-Wrens Lay Larger Eggs

Superb fairy-wrens have the ability to change the size of the eggs they lay, as larger chicks have a better chance of survival in hotter environments.

AsianScientist (Dec. 7, 2016) – Researchers in Australia have shown that the female superb fairy-wren has the ability to change the size of the eggs it lays, a biological feat which could buffer against the effects of climate change. Their work was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Superb fairy-wrens are cooperative breeders, which means that non-breeding helpers—young males who stay behind to help if they can’t find a mate—assist breeding pairs in rearing their chicks. The research, led by Dr. Naomi Langmore from the Australian National University, found that the provisioning of chicks by helpers allows the mother to invest less energy in egg production when conditions are good, resulting in smaller eggs.

The research, carried out over ten breeding seasons in Campbell Park in the Australian Capital Territory, found that breeding pairs without helpers were not able to change the size of their eggs the way those with helpers could. According to Langmore, the researchers were worried that the projected temperature extremes in Australia could lead to high chick mortality or poorer long-term survival, but they found that these birds had a surprising way to deal with this problem.

“By conserving resources when conditions are good, the mothers can invest heavily in egg production when the chicks face high temperatures,” Langmore said. “Producing larger and more nutrient-rich eggs in hotter environments results in larger chicks, which may give the chicks a better chance of survival by buffering against weight loss.”

One of the implications of this research is that animals that utilize this type of breeding could have a better chance of dealing with climate change, she added.

The article can be found at: Langmore et al. (2016) Egg Size Investment in Superb Fairy-wrens: Helper Effects are Modulated by Climate.


Source: Australian National University; Photo: Pixabay.
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