Early-life social environment predicts social network position in wild zebra finches

Hanja B. Brandl, Damien R. Farine*, Caterina Funghi, Wiebke Schuett, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Early-life experience can fundamentally shape individual life-history trajectories. Previous research has suggested that exposure to stress during development causes differences in social behaviour later in life. In captivity, juvenile zebra finches exposed to elevated corticosterone levels were less socially choosy and more central in their social networks when compared to untreated siblings. These differences extended to other aspects of social life, with ‘stress-exposed’ juveniles switching social learning strategies and juvenile males less faithfully learning their father’s song. However, while this body of research suggests that the impacts of early-life stress could be profound, it remains unknown whether such effects are strong enough to be expressed under natural conditions. Here, we collected data on social associations of zebra finches in the Australian desert after experimentally manipulating brood sizes. Juveniles from enlarged broods experienced heightened sibling competition, and we predicted that they would express similar patterns of social associations to stress-treated birds in the captive study by having more, but less differentiated, relationships. We show striking support for the suggested consequences of developmental stress on social network positions, with our data from the wild replicating the same results in 9 out of 10 predictions previously tested in captivity. Chicks raised in enlarged broods foraged with greater numbers of conspecifics but were less ‘choosy’ and more central in the social network. Our results confirm that the natural range of variation in early-life experience can be sufficient to predict individuals’ social trajectories and support theory highlighting the potential importance of developmental conditions on behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20182579
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1897
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2019


  • brood size manipulation
  • developmental stress
  • early environment
  • replication experiment
  • social behaviour
  • Taeniopygia guttata


Dive into the research topics of 'Early-life social environment predicts social network position in wild zebra finches'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this