We investigated individual and resource-dependent variation in ability of female Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) to lay supranormal clutches in response to egg removal, and effect of continuous laying on (1) egg composition and (2) plasma yolk precursor levels. Egg removal significantly increased the number of eggs that individual females laid, but that response was diet-dependent: on a high-quality (egg-supplemented) diet, females laid 12.4 ± 1.0 more eggs compared with their pretreatment clutch size; whereas on the low-quality (seed-only) diet, females laid only 4.9 ± 1.2 more eggs. Removal clutch size (i.e. total number of eggs laid in response to egg removal) was positively correlated with pretreatment mean egg mass and clutch size on the low-quality diet, but not on the high-quality diet. That suggests that there is interindividual variation in egg-laying ability (“large-egg” females had a greater capacity to respond to egg removal than “small-egg” females), but that higher resource levels can overcome individual differences. Egg mass did not vary with laying sequence in supra-normal clutches (up to 22 eggs); however, there was a significant decrease (6%) in yolk protein content of additional eggs that was apparent by the tenth egg laid (i.e. only 4–5 more than the normal clutch size). Plasma levels of the two yolk precursors, vitellogenin and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), were independent of diet and did not differ in individual birds at the 1 egg stage versus the 14 egg stage. However, there was a systematic change in relationship between yolk lipid content and plasma VLDL levels, from nonsignificant for third-laid eggs to significant and positive for sixteenth-laid eggs. We propose a possible mechanism linking female condition and egg-laying ability: good quality females, capable of laying extended clutches, are able to maintain production of generic VLDL for their own metabolic needs, as well as producing yolk-targeted VLDL, whereas poor quality females are not.
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Vol. 120 • No. 2