Influence of incubation recess patterns on incubation period and hatchling traits in wood ducks Aix sponsa

A. W. Carter, W. A. Hopkins, I. T. Moore, S. E. DuRant

Published online: 
22 January 2014

Parental effects are influential sources of phenotypic variation in offspring. Incubation temperature in birds, which is largely driven by parental behavior and physiology, affects a suite of phenotypic traits in offspring including growth, immune function, stress endocrinology, and sex ratios. The importance of average incubation temperature on offspring phenotype has recently been described in birds, but parental incubation behaviors like the duration and frequency of recesses from the nest can be variable. There are few studies describing how or if thermal variation as a result of variable incubation affects offspring phenotype. We incubated wood duck Aix sponsa eggs under three different incubation regimes, based on patterns that occur in nature, which varied in off-bout duration and/or temperature. We measured incubation period, morphometrics at hatching, and monitored growth and body condition for nine days post hatch. When average incubation temperature was allowed to drop from 35.9°C to 35.5°C as a result of doubled off-bout duration, we found a significant 2 d extension in incubation period, but no effects on duckling hatch mass, or growth and body condition up to nine days post hatch. However, when average incubation temperatures were equivalent (35.9°C), doubling the duration of the simulated off-bouts did not influence incubation period or any post hatch parameters. Our results suggest that if incubating parents can maintain favorable thermal environments in the nest via altered behavior (e.g. manipulating nest insulation) and/or physiology (e.g. heat production), parents may be able to avoid the costs of longer incubation periods resulting from increased off-bout duration.