Abstract

BackgroundVariation in food supply during early development can influence growth rate and body size in many species. However, whilst the detrimental effects of food restriction have often been studied in natural populations, how young individuals respond to an artificial increase in food supply is rarely investigated. Here, we investigated both the short-term and long-term effects of providing house sparrow chicks with food supplements during a key period of growth and development and assessed whether providing food supplements had any persistent effect upon adult size (measured here as tarsus length).ResultsMale nestlings tended to reach higher mass asymptotes than females. Furthermore, brood size was negatively associated with a chick's asymptotic mass. However, providing food supplements had no influence upon the growth rate or the asymptotic mass of chicks. Adults that received food supplements as chicks were larger, in terms of their tarsus length, than adults that did not receive extra food as chicks. In addition, the variation in tarsus length amongst adult males that were given food supplements as chicks was significantly less than the variance observed amongst males that did not receive food supplements.ConclusionsOur results demonstrate that the food supply chicks experience during a critical developmental period can have a permanent effect upon their adult phenotype. Furthermore, providing extra food to chicks resulted in sex-biased variance in a size-related trait amongst adults, which shows that the degree of sexual size dimorphism can be affected by the environment experienced during growth.

Highlights

  • Variation in food supply during early development can influence growth rate and body size in many species

  • To investigate the long-term effects of food supplementation we examined whether adults that were fed as chicks were larger than those individuals that did not receive extra food as chicks

  • The rate of growth increased as the season progressed; individuals that hatched in the Mid- and Late-season had a higher growth rate than individuals hatched early in the season

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Summary

Introduction

Variation in food supply during early development can influence growth rate and body size in many species. Whilst the detrimental effects of food restriction have often been studied in natural populations, how young individuals respond to an artificial increase in food supply is rarely investigated We investigated both the short-term and long-term effects of providing house sparrow chicks with food supplements during a key period of growth and development and assessed whether providing food supplements had any persistent effect upon adult size (measured here as tarsus length). In some species food restriction leads to lower rates of growth and, to delayed maturation [9] In such circumstances, individuals may increase the length of their growth period in order to reach a normal adult size [10,11]. Rapid catch-up growth may incur costs such as a decline in cognitive performance [12], an increased risk of certain health problems [13], and potentially a reduction in lifespan [14], which may explain why individuals do not necessarily grow at the maximum rate possible all the time

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