Incubation is a costly phase of avian reproduction, as parents must invest in heat transfer to eggs and nest construction in order to maintain egg temperature within suitable thermal limits; however, costs may differ based on an individual's ability to invest in reproduction. To investigate how environmental conditions, specifically food quality experienced during development and reproduction, influence tactics of resource allocation and costs during incubation, captive Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata castanotis) were raised on either a high- or low-quality diet, paired with a bird of the same diet history, and randomly assigned to breed under the same diet they had been reared on or on the opposite diet. Data were collected on nest attendance, nest quality, nest temperature, and clutch performance (clutch size, egg weight, and number of hatchlings). Greater nest attendance and higher nest-quality scores predicted low temperature fluctuation. Three structural nest components also contributed to temperature maintenance. Temperature fluctuation was the only measure to predict whether or not one or more eggs hatched (“clutch fate”); thus, multiple factors interact to contribute to the outcome of a clutch. Allocation to clutch size and egg mass was influenced only by breeding diet, while nest quality was influenced only by natal diet. In contrast, nest attendance and nest temperature varied with both natal and breeding diets. Nest attendance patterns of birds that experienced a consistently high-quality food environment suggest they faced relatively lower reproductive costs and less sexual conflict than other treatments. Nest temperature patterns of birds raised in a high-quality food environment but bred on a low one suggest they faced higher reproductive costs and more sexual conflict. Thus, a good start in early life may be advantageous if conditions remain favorable, but could lead to higher sexual conflict and reproductive costs if food conditions deteriorate in adulthood.
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