Food shortage is an important selective factor shaping animal life-history trajectories. Yet, despite its role, many aspects of the interaction between parental and offspring food environments remain unclear. In this study, we measured developmental plasticity in response to food availability over two generations and tested the relative contribution of paternal and maternal food availability to the performance of offspring reared under matched and mismatched food environments. We applied a cross-generational split-brood design using the springtail Orchesella cincta, which is found in the litter layer of temperate forests. The results show adverse effects of food limitation on several life-history traits and reproductive performance of both parental sexes. Food conditions of both parents contributed to the offspring phenotypic variation, providing evidence for transgenerational effects of diet. Parental diet influenced sons’ age at maturity and daughters’ weight at maturity. Specifically, being born to food-restricted parents allowed offspring to alleviate the adverse effects of food limitation, without reducing their performance under well-fed conditions. Thus, parents raised on a poor diet primed their offspring for a more efficient resource use. However, a mismatch between maternal and offspring food environments generated sex-specific adverse effects: female offspring born to well-fed mothers showed a decreased flexibility to deal with low-food conditions. Notably, these maternal effects of food availability were not observed in the sons. Finally, we found that the relationship between age and size at maturity differed between males and females and showed that offspring life-history strategies in O. cincta are primed differently by the parents.
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