Adaptive Use of Information during Growth Can Explain Long-Term Effects of Early Life Experiences

Sinead English*, Tim W. Fawcett, Andrew D. Higginson, Pete C. Trimmer, Tobias Uller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


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-termeffects 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 longterm 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)620-632
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Early online date15 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Bayesian updating
  • Development
  • Information use
  • Plasticity
  • Sensitive periods
  • State dependence

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Adaptive Use of Information during Growth Can Explain Long-Term Effects of Early Life Experiences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this