A marker of biological ageing predicts adult risk preference in European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris


Andrews C, Nettle D, Reichert S, Bedford T, Monaghan P & Bateson M (2018) A marker of biological ageing predicts adult risk preference in European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris. Behavioral Ecology, 29 (3), pp. 589-597.

Why are some individuals more prone to gamble than others? Animals often show preferences between 2 foraging options with the same mean reward but different degrees of variability in the reward, and such risk preferences vary between individuals. Previous attempts to explain variation in risk preference have focused on energy budgets, but with limited empirical support. Here, we consider whether biological ageing, which affects mortality and residual reproductive value, predicts risk preference. We studied a cohort of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in which we had previously measured developmental erythrocyte telomere attrition, an established integrative biomarker of biological ageing. We measured the adult birds' preferences when choosing between a fixed amount of food and a variable amount with an equal mean. After controlling for change in body weight during the experiment (a proxy for energy budget), we found that birds that had undergone greater developmental telomere attrition were more risk averse as adults than were those whose telomeres had shortened less as nestlings. Developmental telomere attrition was a better predictor of adult risk preference than either juvenile telomere length or early-life food supply and begging effort. Our longitudinal study thus demonstrates that biological ageing, as measured via developmental telomere attrition, is an important source of lasting differences in adult risk preferences.

Animal Science and Zoology; Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Behavioral Ecology: Volume 29, Issue 3

FundersBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and European Research Council
Publication date31/05/2018
Publication date online24/02/2018
Date accepted by journal07/02/2018
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)