Within-female plasticity in sex allocation is associated with a behavioural polyphenism in house wrens


Sex allocation theory assumes individual plasticity in maternal strategies, but few studies have investigated within-individual changes across environments. In house wrens, differences between nests in the degree of hatching synchrony of eggs represent a behavioural polyphenism in females, and its expression varies with seasonal changes in the environment. Between-nest differences in hatching asynchrony also create different environments for offspring, and sons are more strongly affected than daughters by sibling competition when hatching occurs asynchronously over several days. Here, we examined variation in hatching asynchrony and sex allocation, and its consequences for offspring fitness. The number and condition of fledglings declined seasonally, and the frequency of asynchronous hatching increased. In broods hatched asynchronously, sons, which are over-represented in the earlier-laid eggs, were in better condition than daughters, which are over-represented in the later-laid eggs. Nonetheless, asynchronous broods were more productive later within seasons. The proportion of sons in asynchronous broods increased seasonally, whereas there was a seasonal increase in the production of daughters by mothers hatching their eggs synchronously, which was characterized by within-female changes in offspring sex and not by sex-biased mortality. As adults, sons from asynchronous broods were in better condition and produced more broods of their own than males from synchronous broods, and both males and females from asynchronous broods had higher lifetime reproductive success than those from synchronous broods. In conclusion, hatching patterns are under maternal control, representing distinct strategies for allocating offspring within broods, and are associated with offspring sex ratios and differences in offspring reproductive success.

Publication Title

Journal of Evolutionary Biology