Implications of nutritional stress as nestling or fledgling on subsequent attractiveness and fecundity in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)
The conditions an organism experiences during early development can have profound and long lasting effects on its subsequent behavior, attractiveness, and life history decisions. Most previous studies have exposed individuals to different conditions throughout development until nutritional independence. Yet under natural conditions, individuals may experience limitations for much shorter periods due to transient environmental fluctuations. Here, we used zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) in captivity to determine if conditions experienced during distinctly different early developmental phases contribute differently to male and female attractiveness and subsequent reproduction. We conducted a breeding experiment in which offspring were exposed to food regimes with (a) low quality food provided only during the nestling period, (b) low quality food provided only during the fledgling period, or (c) high quality food throughout early development. We show that despite short-term effects on biometry and physiology, there were no effects on either male or female attractiveness, as tested in two-way mate choice free-flight aviary experiments. In a subsequent breeding experiment, the offspring from the initial experiment were allowed to breed themselves. The next generation offspring from mothers raised under lower quality nutrition as either nestling or fledging were lighter at hatching compared to offspring from mothers raised under higher quality nutrition whereas paternal early nutrition had no such effects. The lack of early developmental limitations on attractiveness suggests that attractiveness traits were not affected or that birds compensated for any such effects. Furthermore, maternal trans-generational effects of dietary restrictions emphasize the importance of role of limited periods of early developmental stress in the expression of environmentally determined fitness components.