SREL Reprint #3277




Energetic constraints and parental care: Is corticosterone indicative of energetic costs of incubation in a precocial bird?

Sarah E. DuRant1,2, William A. Hopkins1, Gary R. Hepp3, and L. Michael Romero2

1Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg VA 24061, USA
2Department of Biology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA
3School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, USA

Abstract: Suppression of the adrenocortical response (e.g., corticosterone release) to an acute stressor is a physiological adjustment thought to decrease the likelihood of avian parents abandoning their nests. However, some periods of parental care, like incubation, are energetically costly, thus corticosterone could increase during these stages to allow incubating parents to utilize energy reserves. Wood ducks (Aix sponsa) have ~30 day incubation periods and only the female incubates the eggs. We hypothesized that corticosterone would be important in regulating energy availability during incubation in this species. Because resources invested in reproduction increase with clutch size, we also hypothesized that clutch size would influence plasma corticosterone during incubation. We measured baseline and stress-induced corticosterone in incubating females during early and late stages of incubation. At both stages of incubation all hens had low baseline corticosterone levels. However, we found that stress-induced corticosterone was 105% greater late in incubation than early in incubation. We also detected a significant negative correlation between female body mass and stress-induced corticosterone late in incubation, but not during the early stages of incubation. Furthermore, we found a significant positive relationship between stress-induced corticosterone and clutch size. These lines of evidence support the hypothesis that incubation in wood ducks is energetically costly and corticosterone is important in supporting the energetic demands of incubating hens. Our findings suggest that corticosterone's role in supporting parental care behaviors are dynamic and are influenced by several factors and that there is a greater physiological cost associated with incubating larger clutches.

Keywords: Stress endocrinology, Glucocorticoids, Parental care, Waterfowl, Brood parasitism

SREL Reprint #3277

DuRant, S. E., W. A. Hopkins, G. R. Hepp, and L. M. Romero. 2013. Energetic constraints and parental care: Is corticosterone indicative of energetic costs of incubation in a precocial bird? Hormones and Behavior 63(2013): 385-391.

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