Homberger, B., S. Jenni-Eiermann & L. Jenni (2015)

Distinct responses of baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels to genetic and environmental factors.

Further information

Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 210: 46–54



Glucocorticoid (GC) hormones, i.e. corticosterone (CORT) in birds, support physiological homeostasis and facilitate adaptations to stressful situations. However, maintaining high GC levels are energetically costly and interfere with other physiological processes. To keep the balance of costs and benefits of GC hormones, various mechanisms act to adapt GC levels to environmental conditions on different timescales, i.e. over generations, between parents and their offspring and within the life-time of a single individual. We elucidated whether two strains (domesticated and wild) of grey partridges (Perdix perdix) differed in the developmental trajectories of baseline and stress response CORT throughout the first 80 days of life. We also explored the potential of prenatal and postnatal factors, e.g. parental origin, predictable vs. unpredictable food treatments, individual and social factors to modify these trajectories. Baseline CORT was similar between strains and unaffected by perinatal food treatments. It was negatively related to body size and body condition. Conversely, the CORT stress response was not markedly affected by physiological condition. It was stronger in wild than in domesticated birds and it increased with age. Birds subjected to prenatal unpredictable food supply exhibited an accelerated development of the CORT stress response which could reflect an adaptive maternal effect. We conclude that the vital role of baseline CORT may allow little adaptive scope since changes can quickly become detrimental. In contrast, the CORT stress response may show considerable adaptive potential which might ultimately support homeostasis in a changing environment.
keywords: Corticosterone trajectories, CORT, Grey partridge, maternal effects, Perdix perdix, unpredictable food supply