Catch-up growth strategies differ between body structures: interactions between age and structure-specific growth in wild nestling Alpine Swifts

P. Bize*, N. B. Metcalfe, A. Roulin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


1. Little is known on the occurrence and magnitude of faster than normal (catch-up) growth in response to periods of undernutrition in the wild, and the extent to which different body structures compensate and over what timescales is poorly understood.

2. We investigated catch-up growth in nestling Alpine Swifts, Apus melba, by comparing nestling growth trajectories in response to a naturally occurring 1-week period of inclement weather and undernutrition with growth of nestlings reared in a good year.

3. In response to undernutrition, nestlings exhibited a hierarchy of tissues preservation and compensation, with body mass being restored quickly after the end of the period of undernutrition, acceleration of skeletal growth occurring later in development, and compensation in wing length occurring mostly due to a prolongation of growth and delayed fledging.

4. The effect of undernutrition and subsequent catch-up growth was age-dependent, with older nestlings being more resilient to undernutrition, and in turn having less need to compensate later in the development.

5. This shows that young in a free-living bird population can compensate in body mass and body size for a naturally occurring period of undernutrition, and that the timing and extent of compensation varies with age and between body structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-864
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006


  • apodidae
  • compensatory growth
  • developmental plasticity
  • food shortage
  • sibling competition
  • LIFE
  • FOOD
  • MASS

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