Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2016

Publication Title

Ecology and Evolution

Volume

6

Issue

6

First Page

1702

Last Page

1711

DOI

10.1002/ece3.1999

Abstract

Life‐history trade‐offs are influenced by variation in individual state, with individuals in better condition often completing life‐history stages with greater success. Although resource accrual significantly impacts key life‐history decisions such as the timing of reproduction, little is known about the underlying mechanisms driving resource accumulation. Baseline corticosterone (CORT, the primary avian glucocorticoid) mediates daily and seasonal energetics, responds to changes in food availability, and has been linked to foraging behavior, making it a strong potential driver of individual variation in resource accrual and deposition. Working with a captive colony of white‐winged scoters (Melanitta fusca deglandi), we aimed to causally determine whether variation in baseline CORT drives individual body mass gains mediated through fattening rate (plasma triglycerides corrected for body mass). We implanted individuals with each of three treatment pellets to elevate CORT within a baseline range in a randomized order: control, low dose of CORT, high dose of CORT, then blood sampled and recorded body mass over a two‐week period to track changes in baseline CORT, body mass, and fattening rates. The high CORT treatment significantly elevated levels of plasma hormone for a short period of time within the biologically relevant, baseline range for this species, but importantly did not inhibit the function of the HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal) axis. Furthermore, an elevation in baseline CORT resulted in a consistent increase in body mass throughout the trial period compared to controls. This is some of the first empirical evidence demonstrating that elevations of baseline CORT within a biologically relevant range have a causal, direct, and positive influence on changes in body mass.

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