Baseline corticosterone does not reflect iridescent plumage traits in female tree swallows
General and Comparative Endocrinology
Corticosterone, Glucocorticoid, Honest signals, Iridescence, Mate choice, Reproduction, Secondary sexual characteristics
The production of high quality secondary sexual traits can be constrained by trade-offs in the allocation of energy and nutrients with other metabolic activities, and is mediated by physiological processes. In birds, the factors influencing male plumage quality have been well studied; however, factors affecting female plumage quality are poorly understood. Furthermore, it remains uncertain which physiological traits mediate the relationship between body condition and ornaments. In this three-year study of after-second-year female tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), we investigated (1) the relationship between baseline corticosterone near the end of the brood-rearing period (CORTBR) and feather colour characteristics (hue, saturation, brightness) the following year, and (2) the relationship between baseline corticosterone measured during incubation (CORTI) and brood rearing (CORTBR), and feather colour in the same year. To control for reproductive effort, we included reproductive parameters as covariates in all analyses. In this first study between CORT and the plumage colour characteristics of a species bearing iridescent feathers, we did not find any relationship between CORTBR and the colour of subsequently-produced feathers, nor did we find any relationship between CORT and the colour of feathers displayed during that breeding season. If CORT levels at the end of breeding carry over to influence the immediately subsequent moult period as we expect, our results generally indicate that structural plumage quality may not be as sensitive to circulating CORT levels compared to carotenoid-based colouration. Future studies, particularly those employing experimental manipulations of CORT during moult in species with iridescent traits, are necessary to fully determine the role glucocorticoids play in mediating the quality of secondary sexual characteristics.
Sarpong, Keneth; Madliger, Christine L.; Harris, Christopher M.; Love, Oliver P.; Doucet, Stéphanie M.; and Bitton, Pierre Paul. (2019). Baseline corticosterone does not reflect iridescent plumage traits in female tree swallows. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 270, 123-130.