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Concept: Quail


The amount of resources provided by the mother before birth has important and long-lasting effects on offspring fitness. Despite this, there is a large amount of variation in maternal investment seen in natural populations. Life-history theory predicts that this variation is maintained through a trade-off between the benefits of high maternal investment for the offspring and the costs of high investment for the mother. However, the proximate mechanisms underlying these costs of reproduction are not well understood. Here we used artificial selection for high and low maternal egg investment in a precocial bird, the Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) to quantify costs of maternal reproductive investment.

Concepts: Natural selection, Reproduction, Evolution, Bird, Quail, Coturnix, Japanese Quail, ARIA Charts


Organophosphate insecticides have been directly or indirectly implicated in avian populations declining worldwide. Birds in agricultural environments are commonly exposed to these insecticides, mainly through ingestion of invertebrates after insecticide application. Despite insecticide exposure in birds occurring mostly by ingestion, the impact of organophosphates on the avian digestive system has been poorly researched. In this work we used the Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) as an avian model to study short-term microbial community responses to a single dose of trichlorfon at low concentration in three sample origins of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT): caecum, large intestine and faeces. Using next-generation sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons as bacterial markers, the study showed that ingestion of insecticide caused significant changes in the GIT microbiome. Specifically, microbiota composition and diversity differed between treated and untreated quail. Insecticide-associated responses in the caecum showed differences between sexes which did not occur with the other sample types. In caecal microbiota, only treated females showed significant shifts in a number of genera within the Lachnospiraceae and the Enterobacteriaceae families. The major responses in the large intestine were a significant reduction in the genus Lactobacillus and increases in abundance of a number of Proteobacteria genera. All microbial shifts in faeces occurred in phylotypes that were represented at low relative abundances. In general, changes in microbiota possibly resulted from contrasting responses towards the insecticide, either positive (e.g., biodegrading bacteria) or negative (e.g., insecticide-susceptible bacteria). This study demonstrates the significant impact that organophosphate insecticides have on the avian gut microbiota; showing that a single small dose of trichlorfon caused dysbiosis in the GIT of the Japanese quail. Further research is necessary to understand the implications on birds' health, especially in females.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Digestive system, Escherichia coli, 16S ribosomal RNA, Quail, Organophosphate


Camouflage is conferred by background matching and disruption, which are both affected by microhabitat [1]. However, microhabitat selection that enhances camouflage has only been demonstrated in species with discrete phenotypic morphs [2, 3]. For most animals, phenotypic variation is continuous [4, 5]; here we explore whether such individuals can select microhabitats to best exploit camouflage. We use substrate selection in a ground-nesting bird (Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica). For such species, threat from visual predators is high [6] and egg appearance shows strong between-female variation [7]. In quail, variation in appearance is particularly obvious in the amount of dark maculation on the light-colored shell [8]. When given a choice, birds consistently selected laying substrates that made visual detection of their egg outline most challenging. However, the strategy for maximizing camouflage varied with the degree of egg maculation. Females laying heavily maculated eggs selected the substrate that more closely matched egg maculation color properties, leading to camouflage through disruptive coloration. For lightly maculated eggs, females chose a substrate that best matched their egg background coloration, suggesting background matching. Our results show that quail “know” their individual egg patterning and seek out a nest position that provides most effective camouflage for their individual phenotype.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Bird, Phenotype, Quail, Coturnix, Japanese Quail, Selection


Avian chemical communication is a rapidly emerging field, but has been hampered by a critical lack of information on volatile chemicals that communicate ecologically relevant information (semiochemicals). A possible, but as yet unexplored, function of olfaction and chemical communication in birds is in parent-embryo and embryo-embryo communication. Communication between parents and developing embryos may act to mediate parental behaviour, while communication between embryos can control the synchronicity of hatching. Embryonic vocalisations and vibrations have been implicated as a means of communication during the later stages of development but in the early stages, before embryos are capable of independent movement and vocalisation, this is not possible. Here we show that volatiles emitted from developing eggs of Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) convey information on egg fertility, along with the sex and developmental status of the embryo. Specifically, egg volatiles changed over the course of incubation, differed between fertile and infertile eggs, and were predictive of embryo sex as early as day 1 of incubation. Egg odours therefore have the potential to facilitate parent-embryo and embryo-embryo interactions by allowing the assessment of key measures of embryonic development long before this is possible through other modalities. It also opens up the intriguing possibility that parents may be able to glean further relevant information from egg volatiles, such as the health, viability and heritage of embryos. By determining information conveyed by egg-derived volatiles, we hope to stimulate further investigation into the ecological role of egg odours.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Embryo, Developmental biology, Ecology, Fertility, Embryology, Quail, Japanese Quail


An interesting aspect of developmental programming is the existence of transgenerational effects that influence offspring characteristics and performance later in life. These transgenerational effects have been hypothesized to allow individuals to cope better with predictable environmental fluctuations and thus facilitate adaptation to changing environments. Here, we test for the first time how early-life stress drives developmental programming and transgenerational effects of maternal exposure to early-life stress on several phenotypic traits in their offspring in a functionally relevant context using a fully factorial design. We manipulated pre- and/or post-natal stress in both Japanese quail mothers and offspring and examined the consequences for several stress-related traits in the offspring generation. We show that pre-natal stress experienced by the mother did not simply affect offspring phenotype but resulted in the inheritance of the same stress-coping traits in the offspring across all phenotypic levels that we investigated, shaping neuroendocrine, physiological and behavioural traits. This may serve mothers to better prepare their offspring to cope with later environments where the same stressors are experienced.

Concepts: Natural selection, Phenotype, Quail, Mother, ARIA Charts, Trait, The Offspring


Scientists have historically categorized gaits discretely (e.g. regular gaits such as walking, running). However, previous results suggest that animals such as birds might mix or regularly or stochastically switch between gaits while maintaining a steady locomotor speed. Here, we combined a novel and completely automated large-scale study (over one million frames) on motions of the center of mass in several bird species (quail, oystercatcher, northern lapwing, pigeon, and avocet) with numerical simulations. The birds studied do not strictly prefer walking mechanics at lower speeds or running mechanics at higher speeds. Moreover, our results clearly display that the birds in our study employ mixed gaits (such as one step walking followed by one step using running mechanics) more often than walking and, surprisingly, maybe as often as grounded running. Using a bio-inspired model based on parameters obtained from real quails, we found two types of stable mixed gaits. In the first, both legs exhibit different gait mechanics, whereas in the second, legs gradually alternate from one gait mechanics into the other. Interestingly, mixed gaits parameters mostly overlap those of grounded running. Thus, perturbations or changes in the state induce a switch from grounded running to mixed gaits or vice versa.

Concepts: Bird, Quail, Running, Walking, Locomotion, Animal locomotion, Terrestrial locomotion, Jumping


BACKGROUND: As for other non-model species, genetic analyses in quail will benefit greatly from a higher marker density, now attainable thanks to the evolution of sequencing and genotyping technologies. Our objective was to obtain the first genome wide panel of Japanese quail SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) and to use it for the fine mapping of a QTL for a fear-related behaviour, namely tonic immobility, previously localized on Coturnix japonica chromosome 1. To this aim, two reduced representations of the genome were analysed through high-throughput 454 sequencing: AFLP (Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism) fragments as representatives of genomic DNA, and EST (Expressed Sequence Tag) as representatives of the transcriptome. RESULTS: The sequencing runs produced 399,189 and 1,106,762 sequence reads from cDNA and genomic fragments, respectively. They covered over 434 Mb of sequence in total and allowed us to detect 17,433 putative SNP. Among them, 384 were used to genotype two Advanced Intercross Lines (AIL) obtained from three quail lines differing for duration of tonic immobility. Despite the absence of genotyping for founder individuals in the analysis, the previously identified candidate region on chromosome 1 was refined and led to the identification of a candidate gene. CONCLUSIONS: These data confirm the efficiency of transcript and AFLP-sequencing for SNP discovery in a non-model species, and its application to the fine mapping of a complex trait. Our results reveal a significant association of duration of tonic immobility with a genomic region comprising the DMD (dystrophin) gene. Further characterization of this candidate gene is needed to decipher its putative role in tonic immobility in Coturnix.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Genome, Quail, Amplified fragment length polymorphism


Two methodological criticisms of our paper “Synchronizing biological cycles as key to survival under a scenario of global change: The Common quail (Coturnix coturnix) strategy” (Nadal et al., 2018) were proposed in the comment by Rodriguez-Teijeiro et al. (2018) regarding: 1) our estimates of the mean date of arrival, duration of stay and departure stages in the different regions studied; and 2) the analyses carried out to correlate the phenology of the species with changes in the climate variables. The conceptual model that we presented relates the dynamics of this quail population, which moves between short periods of stays, and the spatio-temporal structure of their geographic distribution data, in order to understand the ecology of these birds and to link their movement and residency patterns with geographical area and climate conditions. The probability that quail are resident in a region on any particular date is a result of their overall ecological strategy. We believe that Rodríguez-Teijeiro et al. (2018) have misunderstood our model, leading to their criticism of the statistical tests that we applied.

Concepts: Statistics, Biology, Ecology, Geography, Climate, Quail, Coturnix, Common Quail


The social environment of reproducing females can cause physiological changes, with consequences for reproductive investment and offspring development. These prenatal maternal effects are often found to be sex-specific and may have evolved as adaptations, maximizing fitness of male and female offspring for their future environment. Female hormone levels during reproduction are considered a potential mechanism regulating sex allocation in vertebrates: high maternal androgens have repeatedly been linked to increased investment in sons, whereas high glucocorticoid levels are usually related to increased investment in daughters. However, results are not consistent across studies and therefore still inconclusive. In Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), we previously found that pair-housed females had higher plasma androgen levels and tended to have higher plasma corticosterone levels than group-housed females. In the current study we investigate whether these differences in maternal social environment and physiology affect offspring sex allocation and physiology. Counter to our expectations, we find no effects of the maternal social environment on offspring sex ratio, sex-specific mortality, growth, circulating androgen or corticosterone levels. Also, maternal corticosterone or androgen levels do not correlate with offspring sex ratio or mortality. The social environment during reproduction therefore does not necessarily modify sex allocation and offspring physiology, even if it causes differences in maternal physiology. We propose that maternal effects of the social environment strongly depend upon the type of social stimuli and the timing of changes in the social environment and hormones with respect to the reproductive cycle and meiosis.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Female, Sex, Quail, Asexual reproduction, Hermaphrodite


This study was carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of an alcoholic propolis extract (15%) as a disinfectant for Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) hatching eggs. A total of 600 eggs were randomly divided into four experimental groups: 1) negative control (NC), without disinfection, 2) control ©, fumigated with formaldehyde gas, 3) (A), sprayed with 96% alcohol, and 4) (P), sprayed with 15% alcoholic propolis extract. The eggs were incubated artificially in a BIOS hatching apparatus under standard conditions. On the 14th day, the eggs were candled to determine the number of infertile eggs and dead embryos and samples were collected for microbial analysis. After 17.5 d, fertility, hatchability, embryonic mortality, and eggshell conductance were calculated. Fertile eggs sprayed with propolis were shown to have a lower eggshell conductance constant (egg weight loss) than eggs from groups C and A. Total microbial activity on the eggshells did not differ significantly between groups, but Staphylococcus aureus, Micrococcus spp., Bordetella spp., and Chryseobacterium meningosepticum isolates were significantly affected by the propolis treatment. There were no significant differences between treatments for total hatchability, embryonic mortality, and chick body weight on the 1st, 7th, and 14th days of life. The total chick survivability during the first 2 wk was significantly higher in group P than in the other groups. The results indicate that spraying hatching eggs with 15% propolis as a disinfectant can be recommended as a safe and natural sanitizer in place of formaldehyde, with no negative effect on quail chicks.

Concepts: Staphylococcus aureus, Bird, Quail, Coturnix, Japanese Quail, Antiseptic, Chicken, Disinfectant