The memory of hunger: Developmental plasticity of dietary selectivity in the European starling, Sturnus vulgaris

Louise Bloxham, Melissa Bateson, Thomas Bedford, Ben Brilot, Daniel Nettle

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The decision to consume toxic prey is a trade-off between the benefits of obtaining nutrients and the costs of ingesting toxins. This trade-off is affected by current state: animals will consume more toxic prey if they are food deprived. However, whether the trade-off is affected by developmental history is currently unknown. We studied the decision to eat quinine-injected mealworms in adult starling siblings that had been exposed to either high or low levels of food competition as chicks, via a brood size manipulation. At the time of our experiments, the two groups of birds did not differ in size, body weight or current environment. Each bird was presented with the toxic prey while living on a high-quality diet and a low-quality diet. We found an effect of diet, with birds consuming more toxic prey while on the low-quality diet, and also of developmental history, with birds from the high-competition brood size treatment eating more toxic prey than their low-competition siblings. The effects of brood size treatment were not completely mediated by early growth, although we did find evidence that early growth affected toxic prey consumption independently of brood size treatment. We discuss our results in relation to adaptive developmental plasticity and the developmental origins of behavioural variation. © 2014 The Authors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-40
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Developmental plasticity
  • Developmental stress
  • Dietary cognition
  • Nestling competition
  • Starling


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