Long-term effects of early developmental conditions on physiological and behavioural traits are commonin animals. Yet, such lifelong effects of early life conditions on learning skills received relatively lessattention, even though they are expected to have strong fitness effects. To test the lifelong impact of theearly environment on associative and reversal learning performance, we tested zebra finches (Taeniopygiaguttata) in a reversal learning task about five years after they were raised either under low or highquality food treatments in their first month of life. The early nutritional treatment and its respectivegrowth patterns significantly influenced learning performance: Zebra finches who received a high-qualitynutrition early in life gained more weight during the treatment period but needed more trials to associatea cue with a reward. The early growth rate during the treatment phase was linked to how fast the birdsdetected the food at the onset of training in our learning task as well as to their associative learningperformance. However, in the reversal learning step of the task testing for behavioural flexibility, nodifferences with respect to early nutritional treatments or related growth rates were apparent. We showthat early life conditions directly affect the approach to our task and learning abilities over an entirelifetime, emphasizing how crucial the early environment is for understanding adult behaviour throughoutlife.
- early developmental conditions
- long-term consequences
- neonatal nutrition
- stress hypothesis
- nestling diet