Schmid, B., O. Chastel. & L. Jenni (2011)

The prolactin response to an acute stressor in relation to parental care and corticosterone in a short-lived bird, the Eurasian hoopoe.

Further information

Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 174: 22–29



Prolactin plays an important role in mediating parental care in birds, but little is known about changes in prolactin levels when animals disrupt their reproductive behaviour during emergency life-history stages. We investigated the variation of prolactin levels with breeding stage, sex, body condition and as a response to a standardized acute stressor in a small short-lived bird, the Eurasian hoopoe Upupa epops under natural field conditions. We found higher baseline levels of prolactin in females during the brooding phase than in their mates which feed them and their chicks at this stage. Moreover, this is the first report of a differential prolactin stress-response between sexes with contrasting parental care within a breeding phase. Capture, handling and restraint induced a clear decrease of prolactin levels which was less pronounced in females at the very early stage of brooding compared to females in later stages. In contrast, the prolactin stress response in males remained nearly constant over the breeding stages and was stronger than in females. Baseline levels of prolactin, but not handling-induced levels, were positively correlated with body condition. We found a weak relationship between the decrease in prolactin due to acute handling stress and handling-induced levels of corticosterone. Taken together, both baseline and stress response levels of prolactin were related to the amount of parental care, although we found no relationship with reproductive success. It appears that the response to an acute stressor in prolactin levels is finely tuned to parental duties and investment. Hence, prolactin appears to be involved in mediating the trade-off between current reproduction versus self-maintenance and future reproduction.
Keywords: Parental care, Reproductive success, Stress response, Prolactin, Corticosterone, Upupa epops