Female sticklebacks transfer information via eggs: effects of maternal experience with predators on offspring

Proceedings. Biological Sciences
Eric R GiesingAlison M Bell

Abstract

There is growing evidence that maternal experience influences offspring via non-genetic mechanisms. When female three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) were exposed to the threat of predation, they produced larger eggs with higher cortisol content, which consumed more oxygen shortly after fertilization compared with a control group. As juveniles, the offspring of predator-exposed mothers exhibited tighter shoaling behaviour, an antipredator defence. We did not detect an effect of maternal exposure to predation risk on the somatic growth of fry. Altogether, we found that exposure to an ecologically relevant stressor during egg formation had several long-lasting consequences for offspring, some of which might be mediated by exposure to maternally derived cortisol. These results support the hypothesis that female sticklebacks might influence the development, growth and behaviour of their offspring via eggs to match their future environment.

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