Parental condition, brood sex ratio and differential young survival:an experimental study in gulls ( Larus fuscus)

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) Science Article 2


Empirical evidence is growing that the offspring sex ratio in birds can be biased in relation to the body condition of parents during breeding. The sex ratio bias may come about because (1) the actual production of the two sexes may be skewed and/or (2) there may be a sex bias in early nestling mortality contingent on parental condition. By manipulating parental condition and giving them a control brood to rear, thereby eliminating effects operating via the eggs, we examined the extent to which parental condition influences the post-hatching survival of male and female lesser black-backed gulls, Larus fuscus. We found that the pre-fledging survival of male chicks was strongly reduced in all-male broods reared by parents in poor condition. Pre-fledging survival of female chicks was, however, unaffected by parental condition or brood sex composition. Thus, independently of any production biases, sex differences in nestling mortality alone can bias the offspring sex ratio at fledging in relation to the prevailing rearing conditions. In other studies on gulls we have, however, also shown that females in poor condition at laying preferentially produce female eggs. Clearly a bias in fledging sex ratio can occur within the same species due to a combination of differential production and differential post-laying mortality; the latter can involve a differential effect of poor egg quality on male and female offspring, differential effects of brood sex composition on their survival and adifference in the capacity of parents to rear males and females. All of these processes need to be taken into account in attempting to understand offspring sex ratios.

Ruedi G. Nager, Pat Monaghan, David C. Houston and Meritxell Genovart, Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2000) 48:452-457

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