Differential deposition of antimicrobial proteins in blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) clutches by laying order and male attractiveness

Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 2010 May;64(6):1037-1045. doi: 10.1007/s00265-010-0919-y. Epub 2010 Feb 27.


Female birds can influence offspring fitness by varying the relative quantities of egg components they deposit within and between clutches. Antimicrobial proteins (lysozyme, ovotransferrin, and avidin) are significant components of the avian albumen and likely aid in defense of embryos from microbial infection. Within clutches, females may enhance antimicrobial defense of early-laid eggs to protect them from the high risk of infection incurred before the onset of incubation. Among entire clutches, females may invest more resources in young sired by more attractive males because they have higher reproductive value. We tested these hypotheses by quantifying antimicrobial protein distribution within and among clutches in blue tit eggs. Contrary to our hypothesis, clutches showed no differential deposition of lysozyme or avidin within clutches, but eggs laid in the middle of the sequence had higher concentrations of ovotransferrin than eggs in the beginning and end. Consistent with our second hypothesis, we found that females produced eggs with higher concentrations of lysozyme (although not ovotransferrin or avidin) when mated to more attractive (more UV-reflective) males. Furthermore, females mated to polygynous males deposited less lysozyme than those mated to monogamous males. These data suggest that allocation of lysozyme at the clutch level may be a maternal effect mediated by male qualities.