Food-supplementing parents reduces their sons' song repertoire size

Liana Zanette, Michael Clinchy, Ha-Cheol Sung


Food-supplemented parents typically produce more offspring, as numerous experiments on vertebrate populations have shown. ‘Propagule’ (egg or neonate) size and parental care may also be affected, with implications concerning the adult quality of offspring, although few experiments have addressed whether food-supplementing one generation affects adult quality in the next. We conducted a food supplementation experiment on song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and tested whether song repertoire size, a demonstrated indicator of male quality, differed between the adult sons of fed (food-supplemented) and unfed (non-food-supplemented) parents. Counterintuitively, fed parents produced sons with smaller adult song repertoires, who may thus be expected to contribute fewer offspring, and fewer grand-offspring, to the population. Fed and unfed parents invested equally in the total biomass of their clutches and broods, and average nestling condition was comparable, but because fed parents produced more offspring, average egg and nestling sizes were reduced. Fed and unfed parents apportioned care differently within their broods, and we suggest compensatory growth of offspring emerging from light eggs, or egg size itself, may have affected adult repertoire size. Conceivably, the conservation benefits of food-supplementing populations could attenuate over time if fed parents produce offspring of poorer quality than themselves.


    • Received March 17, 2009.
    • Accepted April 20, 2009.
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