Sex-specific development of avian flight performance under experimentally altered rearing conditions

Jan J. Verspoor; Oliver P. Love; Eloise Rowland; Eunice H. Chin; Tony D. Williams
October 2007
Behavioral Ecology;Oct2007, Vol. 18 Issue 6, p967
Academic Journal
Numerous studies have examined predation risk resulting from the costs of impaired flight performance associated with many key life-history stages such as reproduction and migration. Interestingly, although avian nestlings experience multiple resource-based physiological trade-offs and undergo considerable morphological and physiological changes during postnatal development, there is no data available on how nestlings manage the competing demands of growth and the development of flight ability at this critical life-history stage. We examined numerous morphological traits to determine which are responsible for variation in flight performance in juvenile European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), a sexually size-dimorphic passerine. We then manipulated maternal quality during chick rearing (via feather clipping) to examine sex-specific sensitivity of fledgling flight performance to the quality of the rearing environment. Results suggest that the mechanics underlying variation in juvenile flight performance are relatively simple, being principally determined by the ratio of pectoral muscle mass to body mass (BM) and the surface area of the wings. Interestingly, although the maternal quality manipulation decreased BM and structural size in daughters, only the flight performance of sons was negatively affected. Our results suggest that a survival-related trait can be significantly affected in the larger sex when raised under stressful conditions. Furthermore, measuring only BM and structural size may not be sufficient in understanding how the sexes are affected by stressful rearing conditions in sexually size-dimorphic species.


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