Initial reactivity and magnitude of the acute stress response associated with personality in wild great tits (Parus major)

A.T. Baugh, K. Van Oers, M. Naguib, M. Hau

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Abstract

Phenotypic correlations, such as those between functionally distinct behavioral traits, can emerge through the action of selection on individual traits, on trait combinations, and through pleiotropic mechanisms. Steroid hormones are known to have pleiotropic effects on a suite of behavioral and physiological traits, including stable individual differences in coping with stress. Characterizing the stress axis in relation to personality, however, has typically focused on estimating baseline and peak levels of glucocorticoids, principally in captive animals. In contrast, the reactivity of the stress response—how quickly it turns on and persists—may better indicate the ability of an individual to cope with challenges, particularly in free-living animals. Using wild great tits (Parus major) we tested the hypothesis that cautious individuals respond to a standardized stressor with a more reactive stress response compared to bolder individuals. Wild birds were captured and tested for exploration behavior in a novel environment—an operational measure of personality in this species—and assessed separately for their glucocorticoid response to a standardized stressor. Slower explorers exhibited a greater elevation in glucocorticoid levels within the first three minutes after capture. Further, slower explorers reached a higher maximum CORT concentration and had higher total exposure to glucocorticoids during the stressor period. These data provide evidence that the temporal reactivity of the endocrine stress response, specifically its speed and magnitude, is associated with stable behavioral traits in free-living animals. Keywords Corticosterone; Exploration; Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis; Personality; Stress reactivity
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-104
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Volume189
Issue number1 August 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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