Between- and within-individual variation of maternal thyroid hormone deposition in wild great tits (Parus major)

Bin Yan Hsu*, Irene Verhagen, Phillip Gienapp, Veerle M. Darras, Marcel E. Visser, Suvi Ruuskanen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Maternal hormones are often considered a mediator of anticipatory maternal effects; namely, mothers adjust maternal hormone transfer to prepare the offspring for the anticipated environment. The flexibility for mothers to adjust hormone transfer is therefore a prerequisite for such anticipatory maternal effects. Nevertheless, previous studies have focused only on the average differences of maternal hormone transfer between groups and neglected the substantial individual variation, despite the fact that individual plasticity in maternal hormone transfer is actually the central assumption. In this study, we studied the between-and within-individual variation of maternal thyroid hormones (THs) in egg yolk of wild great tits (Parus major) and estimated the individual plasticity of maternal yolk THs across environmental temperature, clutch initiation dates, and egg laying order using linear mixed effects models. Interestingly, our models provide statistical evidence that the two main THs—the main biologically active hormone T3 and T4, which is mostly considered a prohormone—exhibited different variation patterns. Yolk T3 showed significant between-individual variation on the average levels, in line with its previously reported moderate heritability. Yolk T4, however, showed significant between-clutch variation in the pattern over the laying sequence, suggesting a great within-individual plasticity. Our findings suggest that the role and function of the hormone within the endocrine axis likely influences its flexibility to respond to environmental change. Whether the flexibility of T4 deposition brings a fitness advantage should be examined along with its potential effects on offspring, which remain to be further investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E96-E108
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Great tits
  • Individual variation
  • Maternal hormones
  • Multilevel linear mixed model
  • Reaction norms
  • Thyroid hormones

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