Maternally transferred thyroid hormones and life-history variation in birds

Authors: Hsu, Bin-Yan et al.

Year: 2022

Publication: Journal of Animal Ecology

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Keywords: Aves, developmental mode, life-history variation, maternal hormone transfer, migration, pace of life, phylogenetic comparative analysis, yolk hormones


1. In vertebrates, thyroid hormones (THs) play an important role in the regulation of growth, development, metabolism, photoperiodic responses and migration. Maternally transferred THs are important for normal early phase embryonic development when embryos are not able to produce endogenous THs. Previous studies have shown that variation in maternal THs within the physiological range can influence offspring phenotype.
2. Given the essential functions of maternal THs in development and metabolism, THs may be a mediator of life-historyvariation across species.
3. We tested the hypothesis that differences in life histories are associated with differences in maternal TH transfer across species. Using birds as a model, we specifically tested whether maternally transferred yolk THs covary with migratory status, developmental mode and traits related to pace-of-life (e.g. basal metabolic rate, maximum life span).
4. We collected un-incubated eggs (n = 1–21 eggs per species, median = 7) from 34 wild and captive bird species across 17 families and six orders to measure yolk THs [both triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)], compiled life-history trait data from the literature and used Bayesian phylogenetic mixed models to test our hypotheses.
5. Our models indicated that both concentrations and total amounts of the two main forms of THs (T3 and T4) were higher in the eggs of migratory species compared to resident species, and total amounts were higher in the eggs of precocial species, which have longer prenatal developmental periods, than in those of altricial species. However, maternal yolk THs did not show clear associations with pace-of-life-related traits, such as fecundity, basal metabolic rate or maximum life span.
6. We quantified interspecific variation in maternal yolk THs in birds, and our findings suggest higher maternal TH transfer is associated with the precocial mode of development and migratory status. Whether maternal THs represent a part of the mechanism underlying the evolution of precocial development and migration or a consequence of such life histories is currently unclear. We therefore encourage further studies to explore the physiological mechanisms and evolutionary processes underlying these patterns.

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