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Conditions experienced during early life can have profound effects on individual development and condition in adulthood. Differences in nutritional provisioning in birds during the first month of life can lead to differences in growth, reproductive success and survival. Yet, under natural conditions shorter periods of nutritional stress will be more prevalent. Individuals may respond differently, depending on the period of development during which nutritional stress was experienced. Such differences may surface specifically when poor environmental conditions challenge individuals again as adults. Here, we investigated long term consequences of differences in nutritional conditions experienced during different periods of early development by female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) on measures of management and acquisition of body reserves. As nestlings or fledglings, subjects were raised under different nutritional conditions, a low or high quality diet. After subjects reached sexual maturity, we measured their sensitivity to periods of food restriction, their exploration and foraging behaviour as well as adult resting metabolic rate (RMR). During a short period of food restriction, subjects from the poor nutritional conditions had a higher body mass loss than those raised under qualitatively superior nutritional conditions. Moreover, subjects that were raised under poor nutritional conditions were faster to engage in exploratory and foraging behaviour. But RMR did not differ among treatments. These results reveal that early nutritional conditions affect adult exploratory behaviour, a representative personality trait, foraging and adult's physiological condition. As early nutritional conditions are reflected in adult phenotypic plasticity specifically when stressful situations reappear, the results suggest that costs for poor developmental conditions are paid when environmental conditions deteriorate.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5015
JournalPLoS One
Journal publication date2009

ID: 369303