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Most birds develop brood patches before incubation; epidermis and dermis in the brood patch region thicken, and the dermal connective tissue becomes increasingly vascularized and infiltrated by leukocytes. However, current dogma states that waterfowl incubate without modifications of skin within the brood patch region. The incubation periods of lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens; hereafter called snow geese) and Ross's geese (C. rossii) are 2-6 days shorter than those of other goose species; only females incubate. Thus, we hypothesized that such short incubation periods would require fully developed brood patches for sufficient heat transfer from incubating parents to eggs. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing the skin histology of abdominal regions of snow and Ross's geese collected at Karrak Lake, Nunavut, Canada. For female snow geese, we found that epidermis and dermis had thickened and vascularization of dermis was 14 times greater, on average, than that observed in males (n=5 pairs). Our results for Ross's geese (n=5 pairs) were more variable, wherein only one of five female Ross's geese fully developed a brood patch. Our results are consistent with three hypotheses about brood patch development and its relationship with different energetic cost-benefit relationships, resulting from differences in embryonic development and body size. © Springer-Verlag 2006.

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Journal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology

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