A novel function of egg burial: burying material prevents eggs rolling out of wind-swayed nests

Jia Zheng, Emiel Zuidema, Zhengwang Zhang, Mei Guo, Tamás Székely, Jan Komdeur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Egg burial behaviour, that is, when parents bury the eggs with a layer of nest material during the egg-laying stage, has been described in various egg-laying animals. Several functions of egg burial have been described in animals with different life histories and breeding traits, but rarely reveal distinctive functions between sister species. In the polygamous Eurasian penduline tit, Remiz pendulinus, sexual conflict over care has been proposed to drive egg burial since, during egg laying, females hide eggs from males to prevent them abandoning the nest. Females then have the option to desert the clutch themselves and leave parenting to the male. However, in a congeneric species, the Chinese penduline tit, Remiz consobrinus, males have been seen with females in the nest at night, which indicates males know of the eggs’ existence. In this study, we investigated egg burial function in Chinese penduline tits and experimentally tested four hypothesized functions of egg-burying behaviour. (1) We found that egg burial is unlikely to play a role in sexual conflict resolution, as both males and females appeared to bury eggs during egg laying and both freely entered and roosted in the nests with eggs exposed at night. (2) Egg burial does not prevent nest parasitism, as no egg rejection or clutch abandonment was observed in clutches with model parasitic eggs. (3) Our results do not support the temperature regulation hypothesis since the temperature difference between buried and experimentally unburied eggs did not affect hatching success. (4) Notably, our results support the novel egg protection against wind hypothesis since the burying layer efficiently prevented the eggs from rolling out of wind-swayed nests. The difference our study found between the two Remiz species highlights that one behaviour, egg burial, can serve different evolutionary functions between closely related species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date14 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Liaohekou National Nature Reserve for permission to conduct fieldwork at the study site, Zhen Wang and Ziwen Chai for their assistance during the fieldwork, Dr Maaike Versteegh and Dr Jun Lei for feedback on the manuscript and help with statistical methods, and Yuqi Guo for creating Figs. 1 and 2. We also thank Sudeshna Chakraborty for helping with editing the language of the manuscript. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31970405), RC Lewontin Early Award from the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) (to J.Z.), China Scholarship Council (201907720018 to J.Z.), China Birdnet (to J.Z.). We thank the volunteers who helped to collect data in the field and Fenghai Qiao for logistical support around the field site. We also thank the referee Dr Riccardo Ton and another anonymous referee for their valuable comments and suggestions towards improving the manuscript.

Funding Information:
J.Z. designed the experiments, took charge of doing the fieldwork, executing the field experiments from 2016 to 2019, analysing data and writing the manuscript. E.Z. executed the field experiments in 2019, assisted in analysing data and editing the manuscript. Z.Z. assisted in editing the manuscript and provided financial support. M.G. executed the field experiments in 2021. T.S. assisted in editing the manuscript. J.K. supervised this project, edited the manuscript and provided financial support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s)


  • brood desertion
  • brood parasitism
  • egg burial
  • mating system
  • sexual conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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