Proc Biol Sci. 2020 Jun 24;287(1929):20200842. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.0842. Epub 2020 Jun 17.
The emergency life-history stage (ELHS) can be divided into two subcategories that describe distinct, coordinated responses to disease- or non-disease-related physiological challenges. Whether an individual can simultaneously express aspects of both subcategories when faced with multiple challenges is poorly understood. Emergency life-history theory suggests that disease- and non-disease-related responses are coordinated at the level of the whole organism and therefore cannot be expressed simultaneously. However, the reactive scope and physiological regulatory network models suggest that traits can be independently regulated, allowing for components of both disease- and non-disease-related responses to be simultaneously expressed within a single organism. To test these ideas experimentally, we subjected female zebra finches to food deprivation, an immune challenge, both, or neither, and measured a suite of behavioural and physiological traits involved in the ELHS. We examined whether the trait values expressed by birds experiencing simultaneous challenges resembled trait values of birds experiencing a single challenge or if birds could express a mixture of trait values concurrently. We find that birds can respond to simultaneous challenges by regulating components of the behavioural and immune responses independently of one another. Modularity within these physio-behavioural networks adds additional dimensions to how we evaluate the intensity or quality of an ELHS. Whether modularity provides fitness advantages or costs in nature remains to be determined.