Food availability modulates survival in interaction with (for example) competition, disease and predators, but to what extent food availability in natural populations affects survival independent of these factors is not well known. We tested the effect of food availability on lifespan and actuarial senescence in a large population of captive zebra finches by increasing the effort required to obtain food, reflecting natural contrasts in food availability. Food availability may not affect all individuals equally and we therefore created heterogeneity in phenotypic quality by raising birds with different numbers of siblings. Low food availability had no effect on lifespan for individuals from benign developmental conditions (raised in small broods), but shortened lifespan for individuals from harsh developmental conditions. The lifespan difference arose through higher baseline mortality rate of individuals from harsh developmental conditions, despite a decrease in the rate of actuarial senescence. We found no evidence for sex-specific environmental sensitivity, but females lived shorter than males due to increased actuarial senescence. Thus, low food availability by itself shortens lifespan, but only in individuals from harsh developmental conditions. Our food availability manipulation resembles dietary restriction as applied to invertebrates, where it extends lifespan in model organisms and we discuss possible reasons for the contrasting results.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3649907.
- Received October 19, 2016.
- Accepted December 1, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.