Testing the developmental stress hypothesis in canaries: consequences of nutritional stress on adult song phenotype and mate attractiveness

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (Impact Factor: 3.05). 11/2010; 64(11):1767-1777. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-010-0989-x

ABSTRACT The complex songs of songbirds are thought to have evolved through sexual selection. Sexually selected signals must be associated
with costs in order to ensure their honesty as indicator of male quality. Costs may relate to the development of the neural
substrate underlying song learning, which develops already very early in life. Song may, therefore, serve as an indicator
of the early developmental history. This nutritional stress hypothesis has initially been confirmed for a variety of species,
but recent studies using zebra finches as a model species reported somewhat inconsistent effects, and the functional consequences
of changes in adult song phenotype remain unclear. We tested the nutritional stress hypothesis in canaries by manipulating
either the brood size or the food quality postfledging. The brood size manipulation had a significant effect on early development,
and low food quality postfledging led to a transient reduction in body mass. However, we did not find evidence that any of
the song traits measured reflected the early developmental conditions, which is in conflict with the nutritional stress hypothesis.
Canaries may be less vulnerable to nutritional stress or are able to compensate stressful conditions during early development.
However, if males compensated, this compensation may have come at a survival cost. Female mate choice decisions were independent
of the developmental history of a male. Instead, females preferred males singing longer song bouts, a trait that may contain
a heritable component.

KeywordsDevelopmental stress-Sexual selection-Growth-Bird song

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