Seychelles warblers with silver spoons: Juvenile body mass is a lifelong predictor of annual survival, but not annual reproduction or senescence

Thomas J. Brown, Hannah L. Dugdale, Martijn Hammers, Jan Komdeur, David S. Richardson

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The environment experienced during development, and its impact on intrinsic condition, can have lasting outcomes for individual phenotypes and could contribute to variation in adult senescence trajectories. However, the nature of this relationship in wild populations remains uncertain, owing to the difficulties in summarizing natal conditions and in long-term monitoring of individuals from free-roaming long-lived species. Utilizing a closely monitored, closed population of Seychelles warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis), we determine whether juvenile body mass is associated with natal socioenvironmental factors, specific genetic traits linked to fitness in this system, survival to adulthood, and senescence-related traits. Juveniles born in seasons with higher food availability and into smaller natal groups (i.e., fewer competitors) were heavier. In contrast, there were no associations between juvenile body mass and genetic traits. Furthermore, size-corrected mass—but not separate measures of natal food availability, group size, or genetic traits—was positively associated with survival to adulthood, suggesting juvenile body mass is indicative of natal condition. Heavier juveniles had greater body mass and had higher rates of annual survival as adults, independent of age. In contrast, there was no association between juvenile mass and adult telomere length attrition (a measure of somatic stress) nor annual reproduction. These results indicate that juvenile body mass, while not associated with senescence trajectories, can influence the likelihood of surviving to old age, potentially due to silver-spoon effects. This study shows that measures of intrinsic condition in juveniles can provide important insights into the long-term fitness of individuals in wild populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere9049
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

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