Developmental plasticity in a passerine bird: An experiment with collared flycatchers Ficedula albicollis

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Abstract

Young birds often face poor food supply, which reduces their growth and development. However, if the shortage of resources is only temporary, there is a possibility to adjust the growth trajectory of morphological traits after the end of the short-term limitation period. The two main ways of compensatory growth are delayed development (parallel growth) and growth acceleration (catch-up growth). Parallel growth has been widely demonstrated in birds, but the presence of catch-up growth in altricial species has been questioned. However, most experiments have been conducted in laboratory conditions. We manipulated the food supply of nestling collared flycatchers Ficedula albicollis in the wild by removing the male parent for three days at 4-7 days of chick age. We performed early partial swapping to control for origin effects on growth, and total swapping after the period of food limitation to ensure similar late growth environment for deprived and control chicks. Both body mass and tarsus length of deprived chicks was negatively affected by the food scarcity. Body mass showed efficient catch-up growth, but this compensation was absent in skeletal size. Body mass is an important determinant of postfledging survival in this long-distance migrant. Further studies are needed in a variety of species to examine developmental plasticity in relation to age at food scarcity and the allocation hierarchy of various morphological traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-334
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Volume38
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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