Aggressive behaviours occur throughout the animal kingdom and agonistic contests often govern access to resources. Nutrition experienced during development has the potential to influence aggressive behaviours in adults through effects on growth, energy budgets and an individual’s internal state. In particular, resource-poor developmental nutrition might decrease adult aggression by limiting growth and energy budgets, or alternatively might increase adult aggression by enhancing motivation to compete for resources. However, the direction of this relationship—and effects of developmental nutrition experienced by rivals—remains unknown in most species, limiting understanding of how early-life environments contribute to variation in aggression. We investigated these alternative hypotheses by assessing male-male aggression in adult fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster, that developed on a low-, medium- or high-resource diet, manipulated via yeast content. We found that a low-resource developmental diet reduced the probability of aggressive lunges in adults, as well as threat displays against rivals that developed on a low-resource diet. These effects appeared to be independent of diet-related differences in body mass. Males performed relatively more aggression on a central food patch when facing rivals of a low-resource diet, suggesting that developmental diet affects aggressive interactions through social effects in addition to individual effects. Our finding that resource-poor developmental diets reduce male-male aggression in D. melanogaster is consistent with the idea that resource budgets mediate aggression and in a mass-independent manner. Our study improves understanding of the links between nutrition and aggression.
Early-life nutrition can influence social behaviours in adults. Aggression is a widespread social behaviour with important consequences for fitness. Using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, we show that a poor developmental diet reduces aspects of adult aggressive behaviour in males. Furthermore, males perform more aggression near food patches when facing rivals of poor nutrition. This suggests that early-life nutrition affects aggressive interactions through social effects in addition to individual effects.