Adaptive Use of Information during Growth Can Explain Long-Term Effects of Early Life Experiences.
English S., Fawcett TW., Higginson AD., Trimmer PC., Uller T.
Development is a continuous process during which individuals gain information about their environment and adjust their phenotype accordingly. In many natural systems, individuals are particularly sensitive to early life experiences, even in the absence of later constraints on plasticity. Recent models have highlighted how the adaptive use of information can explain age-dependent plasticity. These models assume that information gain and phenotypic adjustments either cannot occur simultaneously or are completely independent. This assumption is not valid in the context of growth, where finding food results both in a size increase and learning about food availability. Here, we describe a simple model of growth to provide proof of principle that long-term effects of early life experiences can arise through the coupled dynamics of information acquisition and phenotypic change in the absence of direct constraints on plasticity. The increase in reproductive value from gaining information and sensitivity of behavior to experiences declines across development. Early life experiences have long-term impacts on age of maturity, yet-due to compensatory changes in behavior-our model predicts no substantial effects on reproductive success. We discuss how the evolution of sensitive windows can be explained by experiences having short-term effects on informational and phenotypic states, which generate long-term effects on life-history decisions.