Reassessing breeding investment in birds: Class-wide analysis of clutch volume reveals a single outlying family

David Watson, Susan Anderson, Valerie Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Reproductive investment is typically considered in terms of size and number of propagules produced. Compared with a thorough understanding of the overall patterns and ecological correlates of avian clutch size, egg size has received less attention and the total effort invested in laying a clutch of eggs is rarely considered. We used clutch volume as an alternative estimate of reproductive investment and present the first class-level analysis of clutch volume in birds using 1,364 randomly-selected species in 204 families. The relationship between body mass and egg volume was very strong (r2 = 0.946), validating previous studies identifying four families (Apterygidae, Pelecanoidiididae, Sternidae and Dromadidiae) with disproportionately large eggs. Clutch volume was also closely related to body mass (r2 = 0.909) and all but one of the taxa with disproportionately large eggs conformed to the overall relationship, their greater egg dimensions compensated by diminished clutch size. The only family which departed significantly from the relationship between body mass and clutch volume was the mound builders (Megapodiidae)-the only group of birds that do not rely on body heat for incubation. Although previously known for laying large clutches of large eggs containing disproportionately large yolks, the remarkable investment of megapodes in reproduction (more than seven times greater than other birds of comparable mass) has been hitherto overlooked. We consider the evolutionary basis and ecological implications of this finding, suggesting that energetic costs associated with incubation act as an upper limit on reproductive output of other birds. We recommend clutch volume as a sensitive, fine-grained measure of reproductive effort for research at a wide range of scales and advocate further analysis of ecological correlates of clutch volume in birds and amniotes generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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