Allocation rules between ornamental and other functional traits of birds may differ among individuals and vary with environmental conditions. We supplemented roller (Coracias garrulus) nestlings with methionine in a between-nest design to investigate the way in which the sex and position in the hatching hierarchy affect the allocation of resources among growth, immunity, and plumage coloration. Methionine induces the production of lymphocytes at expense of growth; thus, we used it to manipulate growth and immunity, which are two traits likely to compromise plumage coloration. We predicted that late-hatched chicks within a brood (juniors) compared to early-hatched chicks (seniors) should allocate more to traits directly providing fitness than to ornamental traits because juniors are more affected than seniors by sibling competition. The methionine treatment effectively enhanced the production of lymphocytes in experimental broods. This appeared to be at the expense of plumage coloration in junior nestlings because, in supplemented nests, junior males showed a trend to display less greenish bellies than junior males from control nests. However, juniors from supplemented nests maintained wing growth as in control juniors. The plumage coloration of seniors was unaffected by the methionine supplementation, although they paid the costs of lymphocyte production at a level of growth that was reduced compared to senior nestlings in control nests. Hence, sex, and hatching order affected resource allocation among growth, immunity, and plumage coloration of roller nestlings. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 500–511.
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