Patterns of within-clutch variation in yolk lutein in the Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis: the effects of egg laying order and laying date
Abstract Carotenoids perform important biological actions in animal tissues, including contributing antioxidant protection. However, the function of transmission of maternal carotenoids to bird eggs is still largely unknown. We made a yolk biopsy of yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) eggs and found that the concentration of lutein declined with laying date and across the laying order and increased with egg mass. The concentration of all the main carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, and dehydrolutein) pooled also declined with date and increased with egg mass. We also performed a partial reciprocal cross-fostering of eggs between clutches and investigated the covariation between morphology, T cell-mediated immunity, and plasma carotenoid concentrations of the chicks and carotenoid concentrations in their original eggs. Absolute plasma carotenoid concentrations did not covary with those in the yolk, whereas a positive covariation was found for relative concentrations. Yolk and absolute plasma carotenoid concentrations positively predicted chick body mass and size but not the intensity of the cell-mediated immune response. Thus, yolk carotenoid concentrations may affect chick carotenoid profile and growth, possibly mediating early maternal effects. However, rearing conditions also contributed to determining relative concentrations of circulating carotenoids. Since yolk or plasma antioxidant capacity did not correlate with carotenoid concentrations, future studies of maternal effects mediated by antioxidants should integrate information on carotenoids with information on other components of the antioxidant systems.