In group-living vertebrates, reliable social allies play a decisive role in dealing with stressors. For example, support by social allies is known to dampen glucocorticoid responses. It remains unknown, however, how social embedding affects the sympatho-adrenergic axis as indicated by heart rate (HR) in non-human animals. We studied the relationships between HR, pair-bond status and distance from the pair-partner in twenty-five free-ranging greylag geese (Anser anser) in a natural social environment. In three individuals, we investigated HR responses following partner loss. Overall, we found a context- and sex-dependent difference in HR between paired and unpaired individuals, paired males having a lower HR during agonistic encounters, and unpaired females having a lower HR during resting. Also, in paired females HR increased with increasing distance from the partner. Our data suggest that HR is modulated by pair-bond status in greylag geese in a context- and sex-dependent manner, which may be representative for social vertebrates in general. Despite the low sample size, the present study indicates that proper social embedding may optimize an individual's physiological investment in the social domain. This reduces individual energy expenditure and may benefit health and reproductive success.
- Received September 22, 2011.
- Accepted October 24, 2011.
- This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society