Manipulative Signals in Family Conflict? On the Function of Maternal Yolk Hormones in Birds

Wendt Müller*, C. Kate M. Lessells, Peter Korsten, Nikolaus von Engelhardt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

127 Citations (SciVal)


Maternal hormones in the yolk of birds' eggs have been a focus of attention in behavioral and evolutionary ecology stimulated by the pioneering work of Hubert Schwabl. Since then, knowledge of both the factors that influence maternal deposition patterns and their consequences for offspring development has accumulated rapidly. To date, the field has been dominated by the idea that mothers use yolk hormones to adaptively adjust offspring development, a view that assigns control over hormone deposition and its effects on the offspring to the mother. This neglects the possibility that the evolutionary interests of the mother and offspring differ. When there is such parent-offspring conflict, the offspring are selected to respond to the hormones in a way that is adaptive for themselves rather than for the mother. Moreover, sexual conflict between the parents over parental investment may shape the evolution of yolk hormone deposition: females may manipulate the male's contribution to parental care through the effect of yolk hormones on offspring begging, competitiveness, and developmental rate. We therefore suggest that for a full understanding of the evolution of hormone-mediated maternal effects, it is essential to study both fitness consequences and physiological mechanisms and constraints from the perspective of all family members.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E84-96
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
Early online date25 Jan 2007
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


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