University of Oulu

Hsu, B-Y, Pakanen, V-M, Boner, W., Doligez, B., Eeva, T., Groothuis, T. G., Korpimäki, E., Laaksonen, T., Lelono, A., Monaghan, P., Sarraude, T., Thomson, R. L., Tolvanen, J., Tschirren, B., Vásquez, R. A., Ruuskanen, S. (2022). Maternally transferred thyroid hormones and life-history variation in birds. Journal of Animal Ecology, 91, 1489– 1506.

Maternally transferred thyroid hormones and life-history variation in birds

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Author: Hsu, Bin-Yan1; Pakanen, Veli-Matti2,3; Boner, Winnie4;
Organizations: 1Department of Biology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
2Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
3Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
4Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Healthy and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
5Department of Biometry and Evolutionary Biology, CNRS UMR 5558, Université de Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, France
6Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
7Biology Department, Natural Sciences and Mathematics Faculty, Jember University of Indonesia, Jember, Indonesia
8Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
9Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
10Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad, Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile
11Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-09-26


1. In vertebrates, thyroid hormones (THs) play an important role in the regulation of growth, development, metabolism, photoperiodic responses and migration. Maternally transferred THs are important for normal early phase embryonic development when embryos are not able to produce endogenous THs. Previous studies have shown that variation in maternal THs within the physiological range can influence offspring phenotype.

2. Given the essential functions of maternal THs in development and metabolism, THs may be a mediator of life-history variation across species.

3. We tested the hypothesis that differences in life histories are associated with differences in maternal TH transfer across species. Using birds as a model, we specifically tested whether maternally transferred yolk THs covary with migratory status, developmental mode and traits related to pace-of-life (e.g. basal metabolic rate, maximum life span).

4. We collected un-incubated eggs (n = 1–21 eggs per species, median = 7) from 34 wild and captive bird species across 17 families and six orders to measure yolk THs [both triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)], compiled life-history trait data from the literature and used Bayesian phylogenetic mixed models to test our hypotheses.

5. Our models indicated that both concentrations and total amounts of the two main forms of THs (T3 and T4) were higher in the eggs of migratory species compared to resident species, and total amounts were higher in the eggs of precocial species, which have longer prenatal developmental periods, than in those of altricial species. However, maternal yolk THs did not show clear associations with pace-of-life-related traits, such as fecundity, basal metabolic rate or maximum life span.

6. We quantified interspecific variation in maternal yolk THs in birds, and our findings suggest higher maternal TH transfer is associated with the precocial mode of development and migratory status. Whether maternal THs represent a part of the mechanism underlying the evolution of precocial development and migration or a consequence of such life histories is currently unclear. We therefore encourage further studies to explore the physiological mechanisms and evolutionary processes underlying these patterns.

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Series: Journal of animal ecology
ISSN: 0021-8790
ISSN-E: 1365-2656
ISSN-L: 0021-8790
Volume: 91
Issue: 7
Pages: 1489 - 1506
DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.13708
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
1184 Genetics, developmental biology, physiology
Funding: This study was funded by a grant from the Academy of Finland to SR (grant no. 286278). BYH was initially supported by the same grant to SR and later by the Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation and the Academy of Finland (grant no. 332716). RAV was supported by the research grant CONICYT - PIA - CCTE AFB170008 – IEB and Cape Horn International Center (CHIC- FB210018), Chile.
Copyright information: © 2022 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.