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Physiological and Biochemical Zoology

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Numerous studies indicate interspecies variation in the ontogeny of the adrenocortical response in birds; however, little is known about the extent of interindividual variation in avian young. Toward this end, we examined the ontogeny and interindividual variation in the adrenocortical response in zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) nestlings. We measured baseline and stress-induced total (bound and free) corticosterone, corticosteroid binding globulin capacity, and resulting estimated free corticosterone levels in nestlings of four different ages ( days 5, 10, 16, and 21). In addition, we investigated the potential correlates of interindividual variation (brood size and mass). Nestlings at days 5 and 10 post-hatching showed no significant increase in total or free corticosterone levels in response to a standardized handling stress, whereas an adult-like stress response was seen by day 16 post-hatching. There was large interindividual (fivefold) variation in both baseline and stress-induced corticosterone among individual nestlings at any age. We estimate that half of this individual variation in the adrenocortical response could be explained by between-clutch variation (e.g., genetics), while the other half could be explained by other factors such as rearing environment (based on estimated intraclass correlation coefficients). Total baseline corticosterone, but not stress-induced corticosterone, was negatively correlated with fledging mass in this species.




© 2009, University of Chicago Press.


© 2009, University of Chicago Press.

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