Incubation temperatures and sex ratios in Australian brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) mounds

Ann Göth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract Megapodes are exceptional among birds because they use external heat sources for incubating their eggs. In Australian brush-turkeys (Alectura lathami), this source is the heat produced by microbial decomposition in mounds of leaf litter. A recent laboratory study showed that artificial incubation of eggs at different temperatures affects the sex ratio of brush-turkey hatchlings. Here, this phenomenon is confirmed for eggs incubated in natural incubation mounds. Eggs from which females hatched were found at significantly higher incubation temperatures in the mounds (mean 33.7°C) than those from which males hatched (mean 32.9°C). Also, sex ratios of chicks from individual mounds were significantly correlated with mean incubation temperatures in those mounds. Furthermore, incubation temperatures differed significantly between incubation mounds during the same month of the year. Within some mounds, incubation temperatures differed up to 9°C between eggs, in others this difference was only up to 1°C. These latter results show that males differ in their ability to maintain stable incubation temperatures. While the effect of incubation temperatures on sex ratio is a novel discovery for any bird, it was previously suggested that incubation temperatures in megapodes also affect embryo mortality and chick survival. These combined effects of incubation temperature, and the limited ability of males to provide optimal temperatures, seem to provide answers to the question why so few birds have adopted this unusual mode of reproduction – a question asked by many behavioural ecologists and evolutionary biologists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-385
Number of pages8
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • incubation strategy
  • megapode bird
  • sex ratio manipulation


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