Multiple behavioural, morphological and cognitive developmental changes arise from a single alteration to early life spatial environment, resulting in fitness consequences for released pheasants
Royal Society Open Science
Open access. © 2016 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Subtle variations in early rearing environment influence morphological, cognitive and behavioural processes that together impact on adult fitness. We manipulated habitat complexity experienced by young pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in their first seven weeks, adding a third accessible dimension by placing elevated perches in their rearing pens mimicking natural variation in habitat complexity. This simple manipulation provoked an interrelated suite of morphological, cognitive and behavioural changes, culminating in decreased wild mortality of birds from complex habitats compared with controls. Three mechanisms contribute to this: Pheasants reared with perches had a morphology which could enable them to fly to the higher branches and cope with prolonged roosting. They had a higher propensity to roost off the ground at night in the wild. More generally, these birds had more accurate spatial memory. Consequently, birds were at a reduced risk of terrestrial predation. The fitness consequences of variation in early rearing on behavioural development are rarely studied in the wild but we show that this is necessary because the effects can be broad ranging and not simple, depending on a complex interplay of behavioural, cognitive and morphological elements, even when effects that the treatments provoke are relatively short term and plastic.
M.A.W. was jointly funded by the University of Exeter and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. J.R.M. was funded by an ERC Consolidator Award (616474).
This is the final version of the article. Available from the Royal Society via the DOI in this record.
Published 23 March 2016
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