The evolution of multicomponent begging display in gull chicks: sibling competition and genetic variability

Kim, S.Y., Noguera, J.C., Morales, J. & Velando, A., 2011. The evolution of multicomponent begging display in gull chicks: sibling competition and genetic variability. Animal Behaviour, 82(1), pp.113-118.

The evolution of begging display may be influenced by gene–environment interaction, through the mechanisms that adjust begging behaviour to environmental conditions of offspring, including intensity of sibling competition within broods. We decomposed the complex begging display of yellow-legged gull, Larus michahellis, chicks into two different functional components: begging for food (pecks) and drawing the attention of parents (chatter calls). We examined these begging components in 2-day-old chicks that hatched and grew up in foster nests, by performing a begging test for each chick alone without the hindrance of its foster siblings. Male chicks and those with poorer body condition begged for food at higher rates than females and those with better body condition, respectively. Chicks from larger broods begged for food more frequently, but chicks from male-biased broods begged less frequently. If begging is costly, chicks may adjust their begging efforts to the intensity of sibling competition. Frequency of chatter calls varied with sex, chick order within broods and body condition: females, the third chicks and those with poorer condition produced chatter calls more frequently. Genetic origin had a significant effect on frequency of chatter calls but not on begging for food, while foster nest effect was null in both traits. Therefore, chatter calls (but not pecks) can be subject to evolution under directional selection. Different begging components may have evolved through different evolutionary pathways.

Sex ratio in relation to timing of breeding, and laying sequence in a dimorphic seabird

Velando, A., Graves, J. & Ortega-Ruano, J. E. Sex ratio in relation to timing of breeding, and laying sequence in a dimorphic seabird. Ibis 144, 9–16 (2002).


When the cost of rearing sons and daughters differs and the subsequent survival and reproductive success of one sex is more dependent than the other, on the amount of parental investment, adult females tend to produce more chicks of the more dependent sex if the females are in good condition themselves. One method of varying the total investment in each sex is through modifying the sex ratio of offspring produced. This study shows that in broods of European Shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis, the sex ratio varied with laying date. Presumably in this species, the lifetime reproductive success of males is more dependent on the level of parental investment. Early breeders are in better condition, the brood sex ratio of early broods was male biased (0.63), while that of late broods was female biased (0.36). The overall difference in sex ratio found between early and late nests could be attributed to manipulation of sex in the first laid egg. In early broods, 77% of the first hatched chicks were male but only 30% of the first hatched chicks in late broods were male. The sex combination of the first two chicks in a brood significantly affected growth as measured by asymptotic mass.

Female body condition and brood sex ratio in yellow-legged gulls Larus cachinnans

Alonso-Alvarez, C. & Velando, A. Female body condition and brood sex ratio in yellow-legged gulls Larus cachinnans. Ibis 145, 220–226 (2003).


In the Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans), males are the larger sex, and show more reproductive variance than females. We predicted that the proportion of male chicks in a brood should increase with female body condition. We investigated brood sex ratio by using DNA markers taken from samples of hatchlings or dead embryos, and female body condition using plasma cholesterol concentration as a reliable indicator. The brood sex ratio of females in good condition was male biased and the sex ratio of females in poor condition was female biased. This relationship was also significant in those nests where all the eggs laid were sexed. Thus, manipulation of embryo mortality cannot explain the biases reported in this study, suggesting that the sex ratio of the eggs was biased prior to laying. These results confirm that sex-ratio manipulation in gulls operates under natural conditions, and supports earlier experimental findings.

Climate Influences Fledgling Sex Ratio and Sex-Specific Dispersal in a Seabird

Barros, Á., Álvarez, D. & Velando, A. Climate Influences Fledgling Sex Ratio and Sex-Specific Dispersal in a Seabird. PLoS ONE 8, e71358 (2013).8): e71358. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071358

Climate influences the dynamics of natural populations by direct effects over habitat quality but also modulating the phenotypic responses of organisms’ life-history traits. These responses may be different in males and females, particularly in dimorphic species, due to sex-specific requirements or constraints. Here, in a coastal seabird, the European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), we studied the influence of climate (North Atlantic Oscillation, NAO; Sea Surface Temperature, SST) on two sex-related population parameters: fledgling sex ratio and sex-specific dispersal. We found that fledgling sex ratio was female skewed in NAO-positive years and male skewed in NAO-negative years. Accordingly, females dispersed a longer distance in NAO-positive years when females were overproduced, and on the contrary, males dispersed more in NAO-negative years. Overall, our findings provide rare evidence on vertebrates with genetic sex determination that climate conditions may govern population dynamics by affecting sex-specific density and dispersal.