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

Clare Andrews, Erica Zuidersma, Simon Verhulst, Daniel Nettle*, Melissa Bateson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number211099
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number9
Early online date15 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes

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