Moderate Heat Challenge Increased Yolk Steroid Hormones and Shaped Offspring Growth and Behavior in Chickens

Bertin, Aline; Chanson, Marine; Delaveau, Joël; Mercerand, Frédéric; Möstl, Erich; Calandreau, Ludovic; Arnould, Cécile; Leterrier, Christine; Collin, Anne
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Background: Environmental challenges might affect the maternal organism and indirectly affect the later ontogeny of the progeny. We investigated the cross-generation impact of a moderate heat challenge in chickens. We hypothesized that a warm temperature–within the thermotolerance range- would affect the hormonal environment provided to embryos by mothers, and in turn, affect the morphology and behavioral phenotype of offspring. Methodology/Principal Findings: Laying hens were raised under a standard thermal condition at 21°C (controls) or 30°C (experimental) for 5 consecutive weeks. A significant increase was observed in the internal temperature of hens exposed to the warm treatment; however plasma corticosterone levels remained unaffected. The laying rate was not affected, but experimental hens laid lighter eggs than the controls during the treatment. As expected, the maternal thermal environment affected yolk hormone contents. Eggs laid by the experimental hens showed significantly higher concentrations of yolk progesterone, testosterone, and estradiol. All chicks were raised under standard thermal conditions. The quality of hatchlings, growth, feeding behavior and emotional reactivity of chicks were analyzed. Offspring of experimental hens (C30 chicks) were lighter but obtained better morphological quality scores at hatching than the controls (C21 chicks). C30 chicks expressed lesser distress calls when exposed to a novel food. Unlike C21 chicks, C30 chicks expressed no preference for energetic food. Conclusion/Significance: Our findings suggest that moderate heat challenge triggers maternal effects and modulate the developmental trajectory of offspring in a way that may be adaptive. This suggests that the impact of heat challenges on captive or wild populations might have a cross-generation effect.


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