Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Montana Wildlife
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Martin, T.E., R.D. Bassar, S.K. Bassar, J.J. Fontaine, P. Lloyd, H. Mathewson, A. Niklison, and A. Chalfoun. 2006. Life history and ecological correlates of geographic variation in egg and clutch mass among passerine species. Evolution 60:390-398


Broad geographic patterns in egg and clutch mass are poorly described, and potential causes of variation remain largely unexamined. We describe interspecific variation in avian egg and clutch mass within and among diverse geographic regions and explore hypotheses related to allometry, clutch size, nest predation, adult mortality, and parental care as correlates and possible explanations of variation. We studied 74 species of Passeriformes at four latitudes on three continents: the north temperate United States, tropical Venezuela, subtropical Argentina, and south temperate South Africa. Egg and clutch mass increased with adult body mass in all locations, but differed among locations for the same body mass, demonstrating that egg and clutch mass have evolved to some extent independent of body mass among regions. A major portion of egg mass variation was explained by an inverse relationship with clutch size within and among regions, as predicted by life-history theory. However, clutch size did not explain all geographic differences in egg mass; eggs were smallest in South Africa despite small clutch sizes. These small eggs might be explained by high nest predation rates in South Africa; life-history theory predicts reduced reproductive effort under high risk of offspring mortality. This prediction was supported for clutch mass, which was inversely related to nest predation but not for egg mass. Nevertheless, clutch mass variation was not fully explained by nest predation, possibly reflecting interacting effects of adult mortality. Tests of the possible effects of nest predation on egg mass were compromised by limited power and by counterposing direct and indirect effects. Finally, components of parental investment, defined as effort per offspring, might be expected to positively coevolve. Indeed, egg mass, but not clutch mass, was greater in species that shared incubation by males and females compared with species in which only females incubate eggs. However, egg and clutch mass were not related to effort of parental care as measured by incubation attentiveness. Ecological and life-history correlates of egg and clutch mass variation found here follow from theory, but possible evolutionary causes deserve further study.