In spite of strong selection by time-dependent mortality on the length of the embryo development (incubation) period, time to hatching varies substantially among species, independently of body size. One view, strongly supported by the work of Thomas Martin and his colleagues, maintains that this variation reflects parental strategies to minimize their own mortality risk at the nest—strategies that influence egg temperature and embryo growth rate. A second, not incompatible, view maintains that variation in the incubation period reflects a trade-off between the growth rate of the embryo and its subsequent quality as a free-living individual. We evaluate several lines of evidence relating nest attendance by adults and the quality of the immune system to the length of the incubation period. Particularly important is the role of sibling competition in selecting for rapid embryo growth and early hatching, and the fact that many species with prolonged incubation periods are raised either as single chicks or in broods with staggered hatching, which predetermines the outcome of sibling competition.
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