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Early-life begging effort reduces adult body mass but strengthens behavioural defence of the rate of energy intake in European starlings

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jonathon DunnORCiD, Dr Clare Andrews, Professor Daniel Nettle, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Animals require strategies for coping with periods when food is scarce. Such strategies include storing fat as a buffer, and defending the rate of energy intake by changing foraging behaviour when food becomes difficult to obtain. Storage and behavioural defence may constitute alternative strategies for solving the same problem. We would thus expect any developmental influences that limit fat storage in adulthood to also induce a compensatory alteration in adult foraging behaviour, specifically when food is hard to obtain. In a cohort of hand-reared European starlings, we found that higher manipulated early-life begging effort caused individuals to maintain consistently lower adult body mass over a period of two years. Using an operant foraging task in which we systematically varied the costs of obtaining food, we show that higher early-life begging effort also caused stronger behavioural defence of the rate of energy intake when food was more costly to obtain. Among individuals with the same developmental history, however, those individuals who defended their rate of energy intake most strongly were also the heaviest. Our results are relevant to understanding why there are marked differences in body weight and foraging behaviour even among individuals inhabiting the same environment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dunn J, Andrews C, Nettle D, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Royal Society Open Science

Year: 2018

Volume: 5

Online publication date: 09/05/2018

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 11/05/2018

ISSN (print): 2054-5703

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171918


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/J016446/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)