Respiration and energetics of embryonic development in a large altricial bird, the Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Journal of Experimental Biology
We examined whether the previously reported low cost of embryonic development in pelicans could be attributed to a more efficient conversion of egg energy to hatchling tissues as a result of high initial egg water content, low embryonic metabolic rate and growth later in incubation than in more precocious species. We therefore determined egg and hatchling composition and the development of embryonic respiration in the Australian pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus, which lays one of the largest
... e of the largest eggs (140-210 g) with an altricial developmental mode. The small yolk fraction (21%) is typical of all pelecaniforms; however, we found that intraspecific variability in fresh egg mass was related to water content (principally in the albumen), but independent of yolk mass (mean 13 g dry mass). P. conspicillatus eggs have, on average, 635 kJ of energy, irrespective of egg mass across the whole range of egg mass. The embryonic developmental pattern of O(2) consumption and CO(2) production showed clear plateaus lasting 2-3 days immediately prior to internal pipping, resembling the typical precocial pattern. However, the rate of pre-internal pipping O(2) consumption was low in comparison with that of precocial species of similar egg mass. There is no evidence to support the hypothesis that the observed plateau in rates of O(2) uptake is due to a diffusion limitation of the eggshell gas conductance in this species. Embryonic metabolic rate nearly doubled during the pipping period, but the mass-independent metabolic rate of the hatchling was low in comparison with that of the resting adult. The total O(2) consumed (11 063 ml) is equivalent to 217.3 kJ (or 34% of egg energy) based on indirect calorimetry and the observed respiratory exchange ratio of 0.71. Thus, the cost of development (direct calorimetry) was 0.29 kJ J(-1) in the egg (mean egg mass 168 g), which is one of lowest reported values. As a result, the production efficiency of pelican embryonic development was 61.6%, higher than the average for birds in general (56.9%) and, in particular, of seabirds that have prolonged incubation periods on the basis of egg mass. High efficiency in embryonic development in this species was attained as a result of rapid embryonic growth later in incubation, low hatchling energy density (23.6 kJ g(-1) dry matter) and dry matter content, low embryonic metabolic rate throughout incubation and a shorter than expected incubation period of 33 days (predicted 36 days).