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Exposure to food insecurity increases energy storage and reduces somatic maintenance in European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



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


© 2021 The Authors. Birds exposed to food insecurity - defined as temporally variable access to food - respond adaptively by storing more energy. To do this, they may reduce energy allocation to other functions such as somatic maintenance and repair. To investigate this trade-off, we exposed juvenile European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris, n = 69) to 19 weeks of either uninterrupted food availability or a regime where food was unpredictably unavailable for a 5-h period on 5 days each week. Our measures of energy storage were mass and fat scores. Our measures of somatic maintenance were the growth rate of a plucked feather, and erythrocyte telomere length (TL), measured by analysis of the terminal restriction fragment. The insecure birds were heavier than the controls, by an amount that varied over time. They also had higher fat scores. We found no evidence that they consumed more food overall, though our food consumption data were incomplete. Plucked feathers regrew more slowly in the insecure birds. TL was reduced in the insecure birds, specifically, in the longer percentiles of the within-individual TL distribution. We conclude that increased energy storage in response to food insecurity is achieved at the expense of investment in somatic maintenance and repair.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Andrews C, Zuidersma E, Verhulst S, Nettle D, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Royal Society Open Science

Year: 2021

Volume: 8

Issue: 9

Online publication date: 15/09/2021

Acceptance date: 24/08/2021

Date deposited: 28/01/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2054-5703

Publisher: Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rsos.211099


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AdG 666669