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Avian eggshell thickness in relation to egg morphometrics, embryonic development, and mercury contamination

July 20, 2020

Eggshell thickness is important for physiological, ecological, and ecotoxicological studies on birds; however, empirical eggshell thickness measurements for many species and regions are limited. We measured eggshell thickness at the equator and the egg poles for 12 avian species and related eggshell thickness to egg morphometrics, embryonic development, egg status, and mercury contamination. Within an egg, eggshells were approximately 5.1% thicker at the equator than the sharp pole of the egg, although this difference varied among species (0.6%–9.8%). Within Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri), where eggshell thickness was measured at 5 equally spaced positions along the longitude of the egg, eggshell thickness changed more rapidly near the sharp pole of the egg compared to near the blunt pole of the egg. Within species, eggshell thickness was related to egg width and egg volume for six of the 12 species but was not related to egg length for any species. Among species, mean eggshell thickness was strongly related to species mean egg width, egg length, egg volume, and bird body mass, although species mean body mass was the strongest predictor of species mean eggshell thickness. Using three species (American avocet [Recurvirostra americana], black‐necked stilt [Himantopus mexicanus], and Forster's tern), whose nests were carefully monitored, eggshell thickness (including the eggshell membrane) did not differ among viable, naturally abandoned, dead, or failed‐to‐hatch eggs; was not related to total mercury concentrations of the egg content; and did not decrease with embryonic age. Our study also provides a review of all existing eggshell thickness data for these 12 species.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Avian eggshell thickness in relation to egg morphometrics, embryonic development, and mercury contamination
DOI 10.1002/ece3.6570
Authors Sarah H. Peterson, Joshua T. Ackerman, Mark P. Herzog, Matthew Toney, Breanne Cooney, C. Alex Hartman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Series Number
Index ID 70217309
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center