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Embryonic Developmental Patterns and Energy Expenditure Are Affected by Incubation Temperature in Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa)

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DuRant, S. E
Hopkins, W. A.
Hepp, G. R.
Hepp, Gary R.


Recent research in birds has demonstrated that incubation temperature influences a suite of traits important for hatchling development and survival. We explored a possible mechanism for the effects on hatchling quality by determining whether incubation temperature influences embryonic energy expenditure of wood ducks (Aix sponsa). Because avian embryos are ectothermic, we hypothesized that eggs incubated at higher temperatures would have greater energy expenditure at any given day of incubation. However, because eggs incubated at lower temperatures take longer to hatch than embryos incubated at higher temperatures, we hypothesized that the former would expend more energy during incubation. We incubated eggs at three temperatures (35.0, 35.9, and 37.0C) that fall within the range of temperatures of naturally incubated wood duck nests. We then measured the respiration of embryos every 3 d during incubation, immediately after ducks externally pipped, and immediately after hatching. As predicted, embryos incubated at the highest temperature had the highest metabolic rates on most days of incubation, and they exhibited faster rates of development. Yet, because of greater energy expended during the hatching process, embryos incubated at the lowest temperature expended 20%–37% more energy during incubation than did embryos incubated at the higher temperatures. Slower developmental rates and greater embryonic energy expenditure of embryos incubated at the lowest temperature could contribute to their poor physiological performance as ducklings compared with ducklings that hatch from eggs incubated at higher temperatures.