Sex-Specific Effects of Incubation Temperature on Embryonic Development of Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) Embryos
In oviparous species, the embryonic environmentparticularly temperaturecan alter phenotype and survival of an individual by affecting its size as well as its metabolic rate. Previous studies have shown that incubation temperatures can affect sex ratio in birds; specifically, low incubation temperatures were shown to produce a male-biased sex ratio in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) possibly because of a higher pre- or postnatal mortality rate in females. We hypothesized that sexes respond differently to suboptimal incubation temperature, leading to a male-biased sex ratio. To test this hypothesis, zebra finch eggs were incubated at 36.1 degrees, 37.5 degrees, or 38.5 degrees C and hatching success, hatchling mass, residual yolk mass, and pectoralis mass were measured. We found that while hatchling mass was similar between the sexes at 37.5 degrees C, female hatchlings were heavier at 36.1 degrees C, and male hatchlings were heavier at 38.5 degrees C. Pectoralis muscle mass was similar between the sexes at 36.1 degrees C; however, at 37.5 degrees C, female pectoralis mass was heavier at hatching than that of males. Females at 37.5 degrees C also had lower residual yolk at hatching compared with males, reflecting a higher use of energy by female embryos compared with male embryos at this temperature. In contrast, residual yolk was similar between the sexes at 36.1 degrees and 38.5 degrees C. Our results suggest that there are sex differences in how incubation temperature alters organ mass and yolk energy reserve; this can lead to a difference in survival at different incubation temperatures between the sexes. Taken together with previous studies showing that females alter incubation behavior with ambient temperature, rising ambient temperatures could impact phenotype and survival of avian offspring in a sex-specific manner.