the Effects of Food Supply on Reproductive Hormones and Timing of Reproduction in an Income-breeding Seabird

Publication Date



Current food supply is a major driver of timing of breeding in income-breeding animals, likely because increased net energy balance directly increases reproductive hormones and advances breeding. In capital breeders, increased net energy balance increases energy reserves, which eventually leads to improved reproductive readiness and earlier breeding. To test the hypothesis that phenology of income-breeding birds is independent of energy reserves, we conducted an experiment on food-supplemented (“fed”) and control female black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla). We temporarily increased energy costs (via weight handicap) in a 2 × 2 design (fed/unfed; handicapped/unhandicapped) during the pre-laying period and observed movement via GPS-accelerometry. We measured body mass, baseline hormones (corticosterone; luteinising hormone) before and after handicap manipulation, and conducted a gonadotropin-releasing hormone challenge. Females from all treatment groups foraged in similar areas, implying that individuals could adjust time spent foraging, but had low flexibility to adjust foraging distance. Consistent with the idea that income breeders do not accumulate reserves in response to increased food supply, fed birds remained within an energy ceiling by reducing time foraging instead of increasing energy reserves. Moreover, body mass remained constant until the onset of follicle development 20 days prior to laying regardless of feeding or handicap, implying that females were using a ‘lean and fit’ approach to body mass rather than accumulating lipid reserves for breeding. Increased food supply advanced endocrine and laying phenology and altered interactions between the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, but higher energy costs (handicap) had little effect. Consistent with our hypothesis, increased food supply (but not net energy balance) advanced endocrine and laying phenology in income-breeding birds without any impact on energy reserves.


Hormones and Behavior





Second Department

Animal Behavior



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