Maternal corticosterone exposure has transgenerational effects on grand-offspring

Biol Lett. 2016 Nov;12(11):20160627. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0627.


The hormone fluctuations that an animal experiences during ovulation can have lifelong effects on developing offspring. These hormones may act as an adaptive mechanism, allowing offspring to be 'pre-programmed' to survive in an unstable environment. Here, we used a transgenerational approach to examine the effects of elevated maternal corticosterone (CORT) on the future reproductive success of female offspring. We show that female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) exposed to embryonic CORT produce daughters that have equal reproductive success (clutch sizes, fertility, hatching success) compared with the daughters produced from untreated mothers, but their offspring had accelerated post-hatching growth rates and were significantly heavier by nutritional independence. Although there was no significant effect on primary offspring sex ratio, females from CORT-treated mothers produced significantly female-biased clutches by nutritional independence. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first record of a transgenerational sex ratio bias in response to elevated maternal CORT in any avian species.

Keywords: intergenerational; maternal effects; sex allocation; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Clutch Size / drug effects
  • Corticosterone / blood*
  • Corticosterone / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Fertility / drug effects
  • Finches / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Ratio


  • Corticosterone

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.rq00r