Stress associated with group living in a long-lived bird

Nuria Selva, Ainara Cortés-Avizanda, Jesús A. Lemus, Guillermo Blanco, Thomas Mueller, Bernd Heinrich, José A. Donázar

Abstract

Many long-lived avian species adopt life strategies that involve a gregarious way of life at juvenile and sub-adult stages and territoriality during adulthood. However, the potential associated costs of these life styles, such as stress, are poorly understood. We examined the effects of group living, sex and parasite load on the baseline concentration of faecal stress hormone (corticosterone) metabolites in a wild population of common ravens (Corvus corax). Corticosterone concentrations were significantly higher in non-breeding gregarious ravens than in territorial adults. Among territorial birds, males showed higher stress levels than their mates. Parasite burdens did not affect hormone levels. Our results suggest a key role of the social context in the stress profiles of the two population fractions, and that group living may be more energetically demanding than maintaining a territory. These findings have implications for understanding hormonal mechanisms under different life styles and may inspire further research on the link between hormone levels and selective pressures modulating gregarious and territorial strategies in long-lived birds.

  • Received December 17, 2010.
  • Accepted January 18, 2011.
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