Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 161, Issue 1, pp 275–288 | Cite as

Who pays the bill? The effects of altered brood size on parental and nestling physiology

  • Emily Cornelius RuhsEmail author
  • François Vézina
  • Morgan A. Walker
  • William H. Karasov
Original Article


Current life history theory suggests that during times of extreme energetic demand, animals may need to trade off physiological capacity of certain functions to maintain other more important biological functions. This might be especially true during reproduction, as parents try to balance their current reproductive demands with the maintenance of themselves and their offspring, while also considering their future fitness. Here, we experimentally manipulated the brood size of black-capped (Poecile atricapillus) and boreal (Poecile hudsonicus) chickadees, giving them  ± 2 nestlings (increased/decreased group) or leaving their nest at the same size (without manipulation; natural comparator group). Parents did not adjust their field metabolic rate to reflect the new brood size; however, nest visitation rate was higher in the decreased group. We found little difference between groups in terms of parental body composition or inflammatory response, with the exception that parents in the decreased group had a higher mass. Nestlings in the increased brood group had lower masses over the course of growth, including right before fledging. The manipulation also appeared to have an impact on tarsus length, but was best explained by a combination of group, species, hatch order and interactions. Nestlings in the decreased group had lower circulating IgY antibodies , but the manipulation had a minimal impact on inflammatory response. We found that, when parents were challenged to work harder, instead of altering aspects of their own physiology, the parents pushed the costs onto their nestlings, resulting in lower quality offspring.


Brood manipulation Doubly labeled water Field metabolic rate Nestling Immune function Parent 


Wer zahlt die Zeche? Die Effekte unterschiedlicher Gelegegrößen auf die Physiologie von Eltern und Nestlingen Die aktuelle Life-historie-Theorie besagt, dass in Zeiten extremer energetischer Anforderungen Tiere möglicherweise die physiologischen Leistungsfähigkeit bestimmter Funktionen gegen die von anderen, biologisch wichtigeren Funktionen gegenrechnen und einen Kompromiss finden müssen. Dies könnte vor allem auf die Zeit der Fortpflanzung zutreffen, wenn Eltern versuchen müssen, einen Kompromiss zwischen ihrer eigenen Erhaltung und der ihrer Kinder zu finden, wobei auch deren zukünftige Fitness berücksichtigt werden muss. In unserer Untersuchung manipulierten wir experimentell die Gelegegrößen von Schwarzkopfmeisen (Poecile atricapillus) und Hudsonmeisen (Poecile hudsonicus), indem wir ihnen plus/minus 2 Nestlinge (vergrößerte/verkleinerte Gruppe) gaben oder ihre Nester in der vorgegebenen Gelegegröße beließen (ohne Manipulation; natürliche Vergleichsgruppe). Die Elterntiere passten ihren Grundumsatz nicht an als Antwort auf die die veränderte Gelegegröße, aber die Anzahl der Besuche am Nest war in der verkleinerten Gruppe größer. Wir konnten bei den Eltern keine Unterschiede in der Körperzusammensetzung oder bei Entzündungsreaktionen finden, mit der einen Ausnahme, dass die Elterntiere in der verkleinerten Gruppe eine größere Körpermasse hatten. Die Nestlinge in der verkleinerten Gruppe hatten weniger IgY-Antikörper, aber die Manipulation hatte nur einen minimalen Einfluss auf ihre Entzündungsreaktion. Wir fanden heraus, dass die Eltern, wenn sie gezwungen waren, härter zu arbeiten, die „Kosten“ hierfür ihren Jungen aufbürdeten, statt Parameter ihrer eigenen Physiologie zu verändern, was zu einem Nachwuchs von geringerer Qualität führt.



We would like to thank the Karasov and Vézina laboratory members for edits and laboratory support for this project. We are also grateful to our four field technicians, Sarah Senécal, Cecile Vansteenberghe, Jolanie Roy and Héloïse Albagnac. We would also like to thank Dale Schoeller’s laboratory, especially Timothy Shriver, for the advice and analysis of the DLW samples.

Author contributions

ECR co-designed the experiment, conducted the experiment and analysis and wrote the manuscript. FV co-designed the experiment, helped with data collection and helped write and provided edits to the manuscript. MW helped with data collection, data analysis and provided edits to the manuscript. WHK co-designed the experiment, helped with laboratory and statistical analysis and writing the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10336_2019_1715_MOESM1_ESM.docx (525 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 524 kb)


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Copyright information

© Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest and Wildlife EcologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonTampaUSA
  2. 2.Global and Planetary HealthUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  3. 3.Département de biologie, chimie et géographieUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada
  4. 4.Groupe de recherche sur les environnements nordique BORÉAS, Centre d’études nordiquesCentre de la science de la biodiversité du QuébecMadisonUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of FloridaTampaUSA

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