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The University of Southampton
Interdisciplinary Research Excellence

Early-life adversity, telomere dynamics and dietary cognition: the European starling as a novel model Event

26 June 2014
IDS Lecture Theatre, Level A Southampton General Hospital

For more information regarding this event, please email .

Event details

Melissa Bateson, Professor of Ethology, University of Newcastle

LUNCH is available from 12.30 in the seminar room opposite

Professor Bateson will be available to meet on the day of the seminar (Thursday 26 June).

If you should like to arrange a meeting, please contact Rob Murray (


In humans correlations have been described between various types of early-life adversity and adult eating behaviour. In my talk I will describe how we have been using a passerine bird species, the European starling, as a novel experimental model for understanding these links.

We have developed short post-hatching manipulations of both food restriction and/or psychosocial stress in starling chicks, and have studied how these manipulations affect subsequent foraging decisions in adult birds. We have found interesting parallels between the effects of early life adversity in starlings and humans including increased impulsivity and decreased selectivity in foraging decisions, implying a "psychology of hunger".

As a subsidiary aim we have been exploring erythrocyte telomere dynamics (birds have nucleated red blood cells) as a biomarker of damage caused by early-life adversity, and have found that both telomere attrition and current telomere length can be good predictors of adult foraging decisions. I discuss whether the adult psychological phenotype that we describe in our birds could be an adaptive, plastic response to the long-term damage caused by adversity in early life.

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