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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Sep 22;272(1575):1917-22.

A poor start in life negatively affects dominance status in adulthood independent of body size in green swordtails Xiphophorus helleri.

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Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland, UK.


Whilst there is an abundance of studies revealing how dominance interactions affect access to resources critical for survival and reproductive success, very little is known about how dominance status is influenced by early life experiences. However, there is increasing evidence that early developmental trajectories can shape the physiology and behaviour of the adult. In particular, compensatory growth following a period of poor nutrition can have long-term effects on the phenotype. Since catch-up growth increases daily energy requirements and hence the motivation to acquire sufficient resources, it might either increase or decrease competitive ability and aggression. Here we test whether growth compensation early in life subsequently affects the dominance status of adult male swordtail fishes Xiphophorus helleri, a species with strong sexual dimorphism and male-male competition. Males that experienced a period of restricted food early in life subsequently caught up and achieved the same adult body and ornament size as control males that had been raised on ad libitum food throughout development, but were subordinate to size-matched controls, suggesting a trade-off between sexual attractiveness and competitive ability. This indicates that early life history and/or growth trajectory can be an important determinant of competitive ability independent of current body size.

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