Müller, C., S. Jenni-Eiermann & L. Jenni (2010)

Development of the adrenocortical response to stress in Eurasian kestrel nestlings: Defenceability, age, brood hierarchy and condition.

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Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 168: 474–483



The developmental hypothesis proposes that the adrenocortical response to stress during post natal development in birds should not develop when the benefits of elevated corticosterone do not outweigh the deleterious effects on growth and development. We tested three predictions developed from this hypothesis in free-living, semi-altricial Eurasian kestrel Falco tinnunculus nestlings. We measured baseline and handling-induced corticosterone levels and the binding capacity of corticosteroid binding globulins CBG on day 10 and 21 of age and related these to age, the development of the defence behaviour, hatching asynchrony and fat stores (a measure of body condition). First, the adrenocortical response to handling (total plasma corticosterone) increased with age and thus during the time when nestlings developed the ability to defend themselves, but free corticosterone did not, because of a concomitant increase of CBG with age. Second, nestlings with adequate fat stores mounted a stronger adrenocortical stress response to an acute stressor, while nestlings with low fat stores avoided additional energy expenses. While baseline corticosterone levels were negatively related to fat stores, increase in corticosterone to handling was positively related. Third, both baseline corticosterone levels and the adrenocortical response to handling were not related to hatching order, but predominantly determined by body condition. The pattern of decreasing corticosterone levels with hatching order found in the lab seems to be neutralized by opposite effects of varying body conditionon corticosterone levels in free-living birds. We argue that the post natal adrenocortical response to stress is adaptively modulated by both variations in the release of corticosterone and in CBG, which is particularly important because elevated corticosterone may adversely affect the phenotype.
Keywords: Anti-predator-behaviour, body condition, corticosteroid-binding-globulin, corticosterone, developmental hypothesis, Falco tinnunculus, fat stores, hatching asynchrony, nestling.