The influence of the environment that mothers provide to their offspring in addition to their genes is an important determinant of the phenotype of an organism. These maternal effects are often interpreted as an adaptive adjustment of offspring phenotype b y which the mother enhances her own fitness. Most studies demonstrate this by showing positive consequences of the maternal effect for individual offspring. However, due to sibling competition, positive effects on one offspring may go at the cost of other offspring of the same mother. Since her fitness is the total number of young produced, studies should not only focus on individual offspring but also consider all offspring produced.
The fitness consequences of maternal effects for mother and offspring will crucially depend on the mechanisms that allow mother and offspring to adjust their behaviour. This flexibility will determine in how far each of them can achieve their fitness optimum but has so far not received much attention. I will study the fitness consequences and mechanisms of maternal effects for both mothers and offspring using experimental manipulations of hormone levels in bird eggs. In theoretical models (game theory) I will analyse how the fitness consequences for mother and offspring depend upon t he flexibility they have in adjusting maternal effects. Finally I will experimentally analyse this flexibility in female birds and their offspring.
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