In avian species, little is known about the development of physiological traits in the days preceding fledging, a critical life history transition marked by a high mortality rate. Developmental trajectory during this period may be flexible based on ecological context or hardwired, with potential costs for variation in growth in the form of oxidative stress. Patterns in development are likely to relate to variation in life history, for which seabirds and aerial insectivores have been well studied, while our focal species is a grassland ground forager, the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). We show that changes in haematocrit, body mass and wing length are independent of year and brood quality, while changes in haemoglobin concentration are higher in low-quality broods. Moreover, we also identify higher oxidative stress in low-quality year and second broods, a potential cost for maintaining a hardwired developmental trajectory in a lower quality environment. Finally, we experimentally test the effects of food supplementation on development and maturity of chicks at fledging to show that although food increases body mass early in development, it does not change the trajectory or final maturity of chicks at fledging. Collectively this study demonstrates that some developmental changes prior to fledging may be hardwired, but may have long-term oxidative costs in low-quality environments.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Molecular Biology
- Insect Science