Seagulls: Are males the weaker sex?

May 7, 2008

Male seagulls may be more vulnerable to their environment during embryonic development than females, according to Maria Bogdanova and Ruedi Nager from the University of Glasgow in the UK. Until now, the sex differences in developmental rate and susceptibility to unfavorable conditions during the embryonic stage in birds have received little attention. The paper has just been published in Springer’s journal, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

In many birds, siblings hatch at different times, resulting in age hierarchies within broods, with younger chicks often suffering reduced competitive ability and poorer survival compared to older siblings. During the last phase of incubation, birds’ auditory system is developed and embryos communicate with each other by auditory stimuli. These vocalizations may act as a cue for later-developing embryos about forthcoming competition, and there is evidence that they can respond to these cues by accelerating their hatching time, to reduce their age disadvantage. However, it is unclear whether this flexibility in developmental rates is sex-specific.

Bogdanova and Nager experimentally manipulated the social environment of herring gull embryos and tested whether sibling contact during the embryonic stage affects the developmental rate of males and females differently, and whether this has consequences for their post-hatching performance. The last-laid eggs – female gulls commonly lay three eggs - were incubated either alone with no information about the presence of older siblings (experimental group), or in contact with other eggs which provided information about the presence of more advanced embryos (control group, replicating natural conditions). Post-hatching, the chicks were reared either with nest mates or alone.

The researchers found a sex-specific effect of social environment on hatching duration and fledging* condition. When incubated in isolation, males hatched faster than females but both sexes fledged in similar, relatively good, condition. In contrast, when incubated with normal between-embryo contact, males were unable to hatch as fast and fledged in significantly poorer condition than females, regardless of whether they were reared singly or in a brood.

The authors conclude that their findings confirm that there are differences in the way male and female herring gull chicks respond to the challenges of hatching at different times. It would appear that females have the upper hand.

Source: Springer

Explore further: X-citing X chromosome discovery could aid research on many sex-linked disorders

Related Stories

Male seahorse and human pregnancies remarkably alike

September 1, 2015

Their pregnancies are carried by the males but, when it comes to breeding, seahorses have more in common with humans than previously thought, new research from the University of Sydney reveals.

How badgers get ahead in game of life

October 15, 2015

New research has shown that badgers, one of Ireland's most iconic wild creatures, roll the dice in their sex lives to gain an all-important edge in the game of life.

Birds reveal the evolutionary importance of love

September 14, 2015

Humans are extremely choosy when it comes to mating, only settling down and having kids after a long screening process involving nervous flirtations, set-ups by friends, online matchmaking sites, awkward dates, humiliating ...

Recommended for you

Roboticists learn to teach robots from babies

December 1, 2015

Babies learn about the world by exploring how their bodies move in space, grabbing toys, pushing things off tables and by watching and imitating what adults are doing.

Getting into the flow on the International Space Station

December 1, 2015

Think about underground water and gas as they filter through porous materials like soil and rock beds. On Earth, gravity forces water and gas to separate as they flow through the ground, cleaning the water and storing it ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.