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      The metabolic cost of avian egg formation: possible impact of yolk precursor production?

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          Little is known about the energy costs of egg production in birds. We showed in previous papers that, during egg production, European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) undergo a 22% increase in resting metabolic rate (RMR) and that the maintenance and activity costs of the oviduct are responsible for 18% of the variation in elevated laying RMR. Therefore, other energy-consuming physiological mechanisms must be responsible for the remaining unexplained variation in elevated laying RMR. Yolk precursor [vitellogenin (VTG) and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)] production is likely to be costly because it signifies a marked increase in the biosynthetic activity of the liver. We documented the pattern of yolk precursor production in response to daily injections of 17beta-estradiol (E2) in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Based on this pattern we carried out an experiment in order to evaluate the metabolic costs of producing VTG and VLDL. Our E2 treatment resulted in a significant increase in plasma VTG and VLDL levels within the natural breeding range for the species. Although RMR was measured during the period of active hepatic yolk precursor production, it did not differ significantly within individuals in response to the treatment or when comparing E2-treated birds with sham-injected birds. This could mean that yolk precursor production represents low energy investment. However, we discuss these results in light of possible adjustments between organs that could result in energy compensation.

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          Author and article information

          J. Exp. Biol.
          The Journal of experimental biology
          Dec 2003
          : 206
          : Pt 24
          [1 ] Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, V5A 1S6, Canada. fvezina@sfu.ca


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