Avian eggs contain a large number of molecules deposited by the mother that provide the embryo with energy but also potentially influence its development via the effects of maternally derived hormones and antibodies: the avian egg is thus 'multivariate'. Multivariate effects on offspring phenotype were evaluated in a study on captive zebra finches, by simultaneously manipulating maternally derived antibodies (MAb) by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) treatment of mothers and injection of testosterone into the egg yolk. LPS treatment had a positive effect on body mass growth at 30 days after hatching and immune response at sexual maturity, while egg testosterone treatment positively influenced immune response at fledging and courtship behaviour in sexually mature male offspring. Maternal effects are known to modulate offspring telomere length (TL). However, the multivariate effects of egg-derived maternal components on offspring telomere dynamics from hatching to sexual maturity are undefined. Here, we tested: (1) the effects of LPS and testosterone treatments on TL from hatching to sexual maturity (day 82); (2) how LPS treatment modulated TL over reproduction in adult females; and (3) the relationship between maternal and offspring TL. We predicted that TL would be shorter in LPS fledglings (as a cost of faster growth) and that TL would be longer in sexually mature adults after yolk testosterone treatment (as a proxy of individual quality). In adult females, there was an overall negative relationship between laying and rearing investments and TL, this relationship was weaker in LPS-treated females. In chicks, there was an overall negative effect of LPS treatment on TL measured at fledging and sexual maturity (day 25–82). In addition, at fledging, there was a Sex×LPS×Testosterone interaction, suggesting the existence of antagonistic effects of our treatments. Our data partially support the hypothesis that telomeres are proxies of individual quality and that individual differences in TL are established very early in life.
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