Transgenerational effects on body size caused by early developmental stress in zebra finches

Marc Naguib*, Diego Gil

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


The nutritional and social conditions that individuals experience during early development can have profound effects on their morphology, physiology, behaviour and life history. Experimental increases in brood size in birds can result in reduced offspring condition and survival, indicating that developmental deficits in enlarged broods have negative fitness consequences within the affected generation. To study long-term effects (i.e. transgenerational effects of developmental stress), we conducted a two-step breeding experiment in which we manipulated early developmental conditions in zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata. We raised zebra finches by manipulating brood sizes and controlled for maternal and genetic effects by cross-fostering. In a previous study, we showed that offspring condition and body size decreased with increasing brood size. Here we show that this effect was carried over to the next generation. Body size in nestlings and at nutritional independence was affected by the brood size in which the mothers were raised. Female offspring did significantly worse than male offspring when the mother had been raised in large broods, suggesting a sex-specific influence of maternal effects. These findings link early developmental stress in females with the phenotype of the next generation via maternal effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-97
Number of pages3
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross-fostering
  • Early developmental stress
  • Life history
  • Maternal effects
  • Zebra finch

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