The adaptive significance of avian egg shape is a long-standing problem in biology. For many years, it was widely believed that the pyriform shape of the Common Murre (Uria aalge) egg allowed it to either “spin like a top” or “roll in an arc,” thereby reducing its risk of rolling off the breeding ledge. There is no evidence in support of either mechanism. Two recent alternative hypotheses suggest that a pyriform egg confers mechanical strength and minimizes the risk of dirt contamination of the blunt end. We present a new hypothesis: that the Common Murre egg's pyriform shape confers stability on the breeding ledge, thus reducing the chance that it will begin to roll. We tested this hypothesis by measuring the stability of Common Murre and Razorbill (Alca torda) eggs of different shapes on slopes of 20°, 30°, and 40° above the horizontal. Common Murre eggs were more stable, and easier to stabilize, than the more elliptical Razorbill eggs. Within Common Murre eggs, more pyriform eggs were more stable. From a fitness perspective, the stability of the Common Murre egg on a slope seems likely to confer an advantage and thus may be a strong force of natural selection favoring the pyriform shape.
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Vol. 135 • No. 4