Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important and abundant fatty acid moiety in vertebrate brains. We measured brain phospholipid composition during development in red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), an altricial species that breeds in aquatic habitats. We also manipulated diet by feeding nestlings fish oil or sunflower oil. Finally, we assessed selective uptake of yolk by comparing the yolk fatty acid composition of freshly laid eggs and day-old hatchlings. Relative to other altricial species, blackbirds achieved high DHA in brain phospholipids (20% of phospholipid fatty acids in day-old hatchlings). This was not a result of selective uptake from the yolk, but rather a consequence of a high proportion of DHA in the yolk (2.5% of total lipids) at laying. Our dietary study confirmed that nestling brains are sensitive to fatty acid supply. Red-winged blackbirds may be able to advance cognitive development relative to other altricial species due to their aquatic maternal diet.
Edwin R. Price, Sarah K. G. Sirsat, Tushar S. Sirsat, Barney J. Venables, and Edward M. Dzialowski