The environment encountered early in life may have permanent and predictable long-term effects in adulthood, studies have reported.
But now a biology graduate student at the University of California, Riverside reports that how individuals fare as adults is not simply a passive consequence of the limits that early conditions may impose on them. Studying how adult Trinidadian guppies (small freshwater fish) responded to their early food conditions, Sonya Auer
found that the guppies had compensated for a poor start to life in unexpected, and potentially adaptive, ways.
"Adult guppies were able to mitigate the potential negative effects of early setbacks, such as poor conditions during early stages of growth and development, by being flexible in their growth and reproductive strategies," said Auer, who works in the laboratory of David Reznick
, a professor of biology
Study results appear in the December 2010 issue of The American Naturalist
To study how adult guppies responded to early food conditions, Auer raised two batches of juvenile guppies separately on low and high food levels in the lab. Once they reached sexual maturity, she switched half of the females from each juvenile food level to the opposite adult food level and kept the other half on the same ration trajectory received during the juvenile stage.