Vallo Tilgar

Prolonged stress can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s physiology and growth. However, the impact of chronically elevated glucocorticoids on the expression of early antipredator responses is still poorly documented. In this study, I simulated the effect of repeated acute stress on offspring phenotype in free-living pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) by administering adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) to nestlings for 6 days. The results showed that frequent induction of stress responses by ACTH injections, independent of parental care, adversely affected offspring final body size, wing length and baseline corticosterone levels. Nestling behavioural activity did not differ between ACTH- and saline-treated groups during exposure to control sounds, whereas behavioural activity during exposure to alarm calls was reduced in manipulated offspring only. I conclude that prolonged physiological stress may have short-term benefits to nest-bound offspring, such as more effective antipredator behaviour, but at the expense of negative effects on body size and developmental speed.

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