Factors affecting maternal provisioning to the pre-natal environment
Coakley, Christina Marie
Maternal effects are important mechanisms by which mothers’ may influence the phenotype of their offspring. Females may vary in the resources they can provide during offspring development and understanding the factors responsible for this variation is key to understanding offspring success- in early life as well as later life. Differential allocation has been reported to occur, however how it impacts on offspring and mother’s future reproduction still remains unclear. This is also true for maternal transferred substances like maternally transferred immunity. Contributions to date have been limited to snapshots in time, mean level of transfer and/or limited information regarding other maternal traits. For my thesis, I aim to further the understanding of maternal allocation effects and explore the transfer of maternal antibodies over an immune response of a mother, across multiple breeding attempts and accounting for embryo, maternal and paternal traits. Furthermore, I determine the effect of key male traits on general egg traits along with maternal antibodies. I examine this at the individual level using Chinese painted quail (Coturnix chinensis) who are prolific layers and sexually dimorphic. To date the majority of differential allocation studies have not necessarily addressed the assumptions of differential allocation theory. In Chapter 2 of this thesis I attempt to address some of these assumptions and explore the impact of male characteristics across a number of clutches and find separate effects of initial pairing and subsequent pairings. I found that mothers can create, by differential allocation, clutches of varying size but egg components (egg mass) appears to be largely influenced by initial clutch pairing and not by paternal traits. Furthermore, the effect on egg mass appears to be a secondary effect mediated by females adjusting their condition based on their initial pairing. I demonstrate that unlike general clutch traits (clutch size, egg mass) maternal antibodies are not affected by male characteristics (Chapter 3) carry-over effects of egg size means antibody levels may be influenced throughout life by early experiences. However, maternal immune response may be detrimentally linked to viability of offspring. Whereas maternally transferred antibodies appear to have no relationship with maternal or paternal traits, oocyte yolk antibodies during development were found to correlate with female antibodies up to 48hr prior to lay. In Chapter 4, I examine a neglected area regarding maternal effect- exploring variation between female in their transfer of antibodies. Individual females were highly consistent in the relative level of specific blood antibodies transferred to eggs across different phases of their immune response, across challenge types (bacterial and viral) and that some females consistently transfer significantly more than others. The relative level of circulating antibody transferred was independent of the individual’s overall strength of antibody response and related to the female’s body condition (while the individual’s own antibody responses were not). We found no evidence for any trade-offs between the amount transferred and overall reproductive investment in this chapter. In Chapter 5, I discuss the wider implications of my findings and suggest future research directions.