Modulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis of an Arctic-breeding polygynandrous songbird, the Smith's longspur, Calcarius pictus

Simone L Meddle, Noah T Owen-Ashley, Matthew I Richardson, John C Wingfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

To successfully reproduce in the Arctic, birds must modulate their neuroendocrine and behavioural systems. These adjustments include an attenuation of the stress responsiveness of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to external stimuli and a behavioural insensitivity to high corticosterone (B) levels. The HPA axis was examined in free-living territorial polygynandrous Smith's longspurs (Calcarius pictus) that migrate to breed on the Arctic tundra. Basal and stress-induced B levels were measured through the breeding season and were found to be significantly lower in females compared with males. This was not a consequence of adrenal insensitivity, because intrajugular injections of adrenocorticotrophin hormone (ACTH) enhanced B release in incubating females. In males the adrenocortical response to stress was significantly attenuated during the parental phase compared with arrival at the breeding ground. In contrast to temperate passerines, there was no significant decrease in male territorial aggressive behaviour when B was experimentally elevated, suggesting a behavioural insensitivity to glucocorticoids. This mechanism is hypothesized to increase reproductive success by preventing interruptions to parental care during transient deleterious environmental perturbations, which are often experienced in the short Arctic breeding season. Modulation of the HPA axis in this species in relation to life-history stage, lifetime reproductive success and the polygynandrous mating system is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1849-56
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Volume270
Issue number1526
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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