Effects of developmental conditions on growth, stress and telomeres in black-legged kittiwake chicks.
Early-life conditions can drive ageing patterns and life history strategies throughout the lifespan. Certain social, genetic and nutritional developmental conditions are more likely to produce high-quality offspring: those with good likelihood of recruitment and productivity. Here, we call such conditions "favoured states" and explore their relationship with physiological variables during development in a long-lived seabird, the black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla). Two favoured states were experimentally generated by manipulation of food availability and brood size, while hatching order and sex were also explored as naturally generating favoured states. Thus, the favoured states we explored were high food availability, lower levels of sibling competition, hatching first and male sex. We tested the effects of favoured developmental conditions on growth, stress, telomere length (a molecular marker associated with lifespan) and nestling survival. Generation of favoured states through manipulation of both the nutritional and social environments furthered our understanding of their relative contributions to development and phenotype: increased food availability led to larger body size, reduced stress and higher antioxidant status, while lower sibling competition (social environment) led to lower telomere loss and longer telomere lengths in fledglings. Telomere length predicted nestling survival, and wing growth was also positively correlated with telomere length, supporting the idea that telomeres may indicate individual quality, mediated by favoured states.