Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2013

Publication Title

Physiological & Biochemical Zoology

Volume

86

Issue

3

First Page

346

Last Page

353

DOI

10.1086/670156

Abstract

Previous studies have related levels of plasma corticosterone (CORT) of seabirds to variation in foraging conditions during the breeding period, but it is unclear whether similar relationships between foraging conditions and baseline CORT exist during other life stages. We validated methods for identifying baseline CORT of lethally sampled birds and assessed variation in baseline CORT relative to winter habitat conditions. We collected free-living white-winged scoters (Melanitta fusca) at four wintering sites during December and February. We found increasing CORT values beyond 3 min after time since flush (the duration between initial flush and death), presumably reflecting acute stress responses. Our results demonstrate that it is possible to obtain baseline CORT from lethally sampled birds if the time from initial flush until death is measured. Our study sites varied appreciably in exposure to wind and waves, predation danger, diving depths, and the fraction of preferred foods in scoter diets. Despite these habitat differences, baseline CORT did not vary across sites or winter periods. We interpret this lack of variation as evidence that birds select wintering areas where they can successfully manage site-specific costs and maintain physiological homeostasis.

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