Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia
REVIEW

Maternal effects in the Zebra Finch: a model mother reviewed

Simon C. Griffith A C and Katherine L. Buchanan B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia.

B School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Geelong, Vic. 3217, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: simon.griffith@mq.edu.au

Emu 110(3) 251-267 https://doi.org/10.1071/MU10006
Submitted: 24 January 2010  Accepted: 27 May 2010   Published: 18 August 2010

Abstract

Birds are a particularly good group with which to examine the importance of maternal effects, as parental contributions can be relatively easily quantified compared with other groups. There have undoubtedly been more studies on maternal effects in the Zebra Finch than any other single bird species. Studies of this species have examined the importance of maternal effects mediated through sex allocation, size, nutrients and hormones of of eggs, incubation behaviour and provisioning levels. A synthesis of all of this work illustrates some contrasting results (e.g. many high-profile results have failed to be replicated), some very common patterns (e.g. investment shifts through the laying sequence), and potentially interesting and complex interactions between traits (e.g. between sex of offspring and hormonal profiles of eggs). This extensive collection of work on the Zebra Finch provides useful general insight into the patterns of maternal investment in birds and the effects on offspring phenotype. However, we caution that the literature is probably littered with studies that have overemphasised the importance of some maternal effects and recent studies have highlighted analytical and logical flaws that have probably led to misplaced confidence in some of the findings reported to date. Finally, it is worth considering that the bulk of the literature is based on studies of captive domesticated birds and ecological and physiological data from individuals in the wild is currently lacking. The biological relevance of maternal effects documented in this model species is therefore unclear.

Additional keywords: differential allocation, egg-size, offspring development, sexual selection, Taeniopygia guttata, yolk hormones.


Acknowledgements

We thank Richard Zann for the enthusiasm and openness with which he shared his understanding of the Zebra Finch with us and welcomed us to start research on this model system in the wild and captivity. Even though Richard’s book (Zann 1996) pre-dates most of the work in the field of maternal effects, his general insight into the ecology of the Zebra Finch has provided an excellent foundation for our synthesis. We also thank Amanda Gilby, Mark Mainwaring, Mylene Mariette, Emma Pariser, Andy Russell, and Alison Rutstein for useful discussion and Barbara Tschirren and an anonymous reviewer for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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