Effects of early life adversity and sex on dominance in European starlings.
ABSTRACT: Dominance in socially foraging animals may be related to sex and to variation in individual quality. Individual quality may in turn reflect conditions during early development. We studied dominance in a cohort of adult European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, that had been subject to experimental manipulations of food supply and begging effort when they were nestlings. We measured dominance in two different contexts, contests over a food resource and relative position on a sloping perch, over the course of 3 weeks. Dominance in food contests was extremely stable over the 3 weeks and relative perch position somewhat stable. Males were dominant over females in contests over food and perched in higher positions. These sex differences were not explained by males' greater size or body weight. Food dominance and perch position were uncorrelated. Neither early life food supply nor early life begging effort affected food dominance; nor did an alternative measure of developmental stress, developmental telomere attrition. Birds that had been made to beg more as nestlings perched in higher positions than those that had begged less. Our results did not support the hypothesis that early life adversity leads to lower adult dominance rank in the context of feeding, and we suggest that relative perch position may have measured individual preference rather than competitive ability.
Project description:The coevolution of parental supply and offspring demand has long been thought to involve offspring need driving begging and parental care, leaving other hypotheses underexplored. In a population of wild birds, we experimentally tested whether begging serves as a negatively condition-dependent signal of need or a positively condition-dependent signal of quality. Across multiple years, we supplemented nestling house wrens with food shortly after hatching and simultaneously manipulated corticosterone levels to simulate the hunger-induced increase in glucocorticoids thought to mediate begging. This allowed us to also test whether begging is simply a proximate signal of hunger. Days after supplementation ended, food-supplemented nestlings were in better condition than nonsupplemented nestlings and begged for food at an increased rate; their parents, in turn, increased provisioning to a greater extent than parents of nonsupplemented young, as begging positively predicted provisioning. Food-supplemented nestlings therefore attained above-average condition, which predicted their recruitment as breeding adults in the local population. Glucocorticoids increased begging in the short term, but this transient effect depended on satiety. Thus, glucocorticoids promoted begging as a proximate response to hunger, whereas the longer-term changes in nestling condition, begging, and food provisioning suggest that begging ultimately signals offspring quality to elicit increased investment, thereby enhancing offspring survival.
Project description:It is commonly observed in many bird species that dependent offspring vigorously solicit for food transfers provided by their parents. However, the likelihood of receiving food does not only depend on the parental response, but also on the degree of sibling competition, at least in species where parents raise several offspring simultaneously. To date, little is known about whether and how individual offspring adjusts its begging strategy according to the entwined effects of need, state and competitive ability of itself and its siblings. We here manipulated the hunger levels of either the two heaviest or the two lightest blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) nestlings in a short-term food deprivation experiment. Our results showed that the lightest nestlings consistently begged more than the heaviest nestlings, an effect that was overruled by the tremendous increase in begging behaviour after food deprivation. Meanwhile, the amplified begging signals after food deprivation were the only cue for providing parents in their decision process. Furthermore, we observed flexible but state-independent begging behaviour in response to changes in sibling need. As opposed to our expectations, nestlings consistently increased their begging behaviour when confronted with food deprived siblings. Overall, our study highlights that individual begging primarily aims at increasing direct benefits, but nevertheless reflects the complexity of a young birds' family life, in addition to aspects of intrinsic need and state.
Project description:Parent-offspring conflict theory predicts that begging behaviour could escalate continuously over evolutionary time if it is not prevented by costliness of begging displays. Three main potential physiological costs have been proposed: growth, immunological and metabolic costs. However, empirical evidence on this subject remains elusive because published results are often contradictory. In this study, we test for the existence of these three potential physiological costs of begging in house sparrow (Passer domesticus) nestlings by stimulating a group of nestlings to beg for longer and another group for shorter periods than in natural conditions. All nestlings were fed with the same quantity of food. Our study involves a long-term experimental treatment for begging studies (five consecutive days). Long-term studies frequently provide clearer results than short-term studies and, sometimes, relevant information not reported by the latter ones. Our long-term experiment shows (i) a clear effect on the immune response even since the first measurement (6 hours), but it was higher during the second (long-term) than during the first (short-term) test; (ii) evidence of a growth cost of begging in house sparrow nestlings not previously found by other studies; (iii) body condition was affected by our experimental manipulation only after 48 hour; (iv) a metabolic cost of begging never previously shown in any species, and (v) for the first time, it has shown a simultaneous effect of the three potential physiological costs of begging: immunocompetence, growth, and metabolism. This implies first, that a multilevel trade-off can occur between begging and all physiological costs and, second, that a lack of support in a short-term experiment for the existence of a tested cost of begging does not mean absence of that cost, because it can be found in a long-term experiment.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Theoretical models predict that a cost is necessary to guarantee honesty in begging displays given by offspring to solicit food from their parents. There is evidence for begging costs in the form of a reduced growth rate and immunocompetence. Moreover, begging implies vigorous physical activity and attentiveness, which should increase metabolism and thus the releasing of pro-oxidant substances. Consequently, we predict that soliciting offspring incur a cost in terms of oxidative stress, and growth rate and immune response (processes that generate pro-oxidants substances) are reduced in order to maintain oxidative balance. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We test whether magpie (Pica pica) nestlings incur a cost in terms of oxidative stress when experimentally forced to beg intensively, and whether oxidative balance is maintained by reducing growth rate and immune response. Our results show that begging provokes oxidative stress, and that nestlings begging for longer bouts reduce growth and immune response, thereby maintaining their oxidative status. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: These findings help explaining the physiological link between begging and its associated growth and immunocompetence costs, which seems to be mediated by oxidative stress. Our study is a unique example of the complex relationships between the intensity of a communicative display (begging), oxidative stress, and life-history traits directly linked to viability.
Project description:Early-life adversity is associated with accelerated cellular ageing during development and increased inflammation during adulthood. However, human studies can only establish correlation, not causation, and existing experimental animal approaches alter multiple components of early-life adversity simultaneously. We developed a novel hand-rearing paradigm in European starling nestlings (Sturnus vulgaris), in which we separately manipulated nutritional shortfall and begging effort for a period of 10 days. The experimental treatments accelerated erythrocyte telomere attrition and increased DNA damage measured in the juvenile period. For telomere attrition, amount of food and begging effort exerted additive effects. Only the combination of low food amount and high begging effort increased DNA damage. We then measured two markers of inflammation, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, when the birds were adults. The experimental treatments affected both inflammatory markers, though the patterns were complex and different for each marker. The effect of the experimental treatments on adult interleukin-6 was partially mediated by increased juvenile DNA damage. Our results show that both nutritional input and begging effort in the nestling period affect cellular ageing and adult inflammation in the starling. However, the pattern of effects is different for different biomarkers measured at different time points.
Project description:Begging behaviour of nestlings has been intensively studied for several decades as a key component of parent-offspring conflict. There are essentially two main theories to account for intensity of food solicitation among offspring: that intensity of begging is related to some form of scramble competition between nest mates or that it offers honest signalling of need to parents. The vast majority of studies which have addressed begging behaviour have been based on observations of, and experiments on, nestlings and have not considered begging behaviour, during the post-fledging period. Begging vocalizations in this post-fledging phase of dependence have rarely been studied, despite the importance of vocalizations as a communication method between offspring and parents, particularly for nocturnal species. We radiotracked 39 fledglings of the Tengmalm's owl (Aegolius funereus) in two years with different availability of prey: 2010 (n?=?29 fledglings) and 2011 (n?=?10 fledglings) and made 1320 nightly localizations in which we recorded presence or absence of begging calls. Within years, the most important measures related to the probability of vocalization were body condition at fledging, time of night, number of surviving siblings, age and weather conditions. Begging intensity increased with age in both years; however, in the year with low prey availability fledglings vocalized significantly more often. The main factor causing these differences between years was probably the different availability of prey, affecting breeding success, post-fledging behaviour, and thus also both short- and long-term needs of offspring. We believe that our results suggest honest signalling of their fledgling's need.
Project description:Across a range of species including humans, personality traits, or differences in behaviour between individuals that are consistent over time, have been demonstrated. However, few studies have measured whether these consistent differences are evident in very young animals, and whether they persist over an individual's entire lifespan. Here we investigated the begging behaviour of very young cross-fostered zebra finch nestlings and the relationship between that and adult activity levels. We found a link between the nestling activity behaviour head movements during begging, measured at just five and seven days after hatching, and adult activity levels, measured when individuals were between three and three and a half years old. Moreover, body mass was found to be negatively correlated with both nestling and adult activity levels, suggesting that individuals which carry less body fat as adults are less active both as adults and during begging as nestlings. Our work suggests that the personality traits identified here in both very young nestlings and adults may be linked to physiological factors such as metabolism or environmental sources of variation. Moreover, our work suggests it may be possible to predict an individual's future adult personality at a very young age, opening up new avenues for future work to explore the relationship between personality and a number of aspects of individual life history and survival.
Project description:Parent-offspring communication remains an unresolved challenge for biologist. The difficulty of the challenge comes from the fact that it is a multifaceted problem with connections to life-history evolution, parent-offspring conflict, kin selection and signalling. Previous efforts mainly focused on modelling resource allocation at the expense of the dynamic interaction during a reproductive season. Here we present a two-stage model of begging where the first stage models the interaction between nestlings and parents within a nest and the second stage models the life-history trade-offs. We show in an asexual population that honest begging results in decreased variance of collected food between siblings, which leads to mean number of surviving offspring. Thus, honest begging can be seen as a special bet-hedging against informational uncertainty, which not just decreases the variance of fitness but also increases the arithmetic mean.
Project description:Early-life adversity is associated with increased vulnerability to depression in humans, and depression-like phenotypes in animals. However, different types of adverse experience may leave different signatures in adulthood. We experimentally manipulated the Amount of food delivered to European starling nestlings and the begging Effort required to obtain food during early development. Here, we report behavioural data in adulthood from a task that assessed sensitivity to shifts in reward magnitude characteristic of depression-like low mood. Birds that had experienced Hard Effort were more food motivated than birds that had experienced Easy Effort. Both Effort and Amount affected sensitivity to shifts in reward magnitude: Hard Effort birds showed an enhanced negative contrast effect following loss of reward ('disappointment'), and Lean Amount birds failed to show a normal positive contrast effect following gain in reward (a lack of 'elation'). Therefore, the feeding schedule experienced for just 10 days in early life caused enduring effects on feeding motivation and sensitivity to reward loss/gain consistent with human depression. Furthermore, the contrast effects were specific to different types of adversity. These results highlight the importance of early-life feeding schedules in the development of depression-like phenotypes.
Project description:Aggressive interactions among closely related species are common, and can play an important role as a selective pressure shaping species traits and assemblages. The nature of this selective pressure depends on whether the outcomes of aggressive contests are asymmetric between species (i.e., one species is consistently dominant), yet few studies have estimated the prevalence of asymmetric versus symmetric outcomes to aggressive contests. Here we use previously published data involving 26,212 interactions between 270 species pairs of birds from 26 taxonomic families to address the question: How often are aggressive interactions among closely related bird species asymmetric? We define asymmetry using (i) the proportion of contests won by one species, and (ii) statistical tests for asymmetric outcomes of aggressive contests. We calculate these asymmetries using data summed across different sites for each species pair, and compare results to asymmetries calculated using data separated by location. We find that 80% of species pairs had aggressive outcomes where one species won 80% or more of aggressive contests. We also find that the majority of aggressive interactions among closely related species show statistically significant asymmetries, and above a sample size of 52 interactions, all outcomes are asymmetric following binomial tests. Species pairs with dominance data from multiple sites showed the same dominance relationship across locations in 93% of the species pairs. Overall, our results suggest that the outcome of aggressive interactions among closely related species are usually consistent and asymmetric, and should thus favor ecological and evolutionary strategies specific to the position of a species within a dominance hierarchy.