Adrenocortical responses in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata): Individual variation, repeatability, and relationship to phenotypic quality

Haruka Wada, Katrina G. Salvante, Christine Stables, Emily Wagner, Tony D. Williams, Creagh W. Breuner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Although individual variation is a key requirement for natural selection, little is known about the magnitude and patterns of individual variation in endocrine systems or the functional significance of that variation. Here we describe (1) the extent and repeatability of inter-individual variation in adrenocortical responses and (2) its relationship to sex-specific phenotypic quality, such as song duration and frequency and timing of egg laying. We measured adrenocortical responses to a standardized stressor in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) at two life history stages: ∼ day 16 (nestlings) and 3 months of age (sexually mature adults). Subsequently, we assessed phenotypic (reproductive) quality of all individuals as adults. Marked inter-individual variation in the adrenocortical response was seen in both sexes and ages, e.g., stress-induced corticosterone ranged from 2.2 to 62.5 ng/mL in nestlings and 5.0-64.0 ng/mL in adults. We found sex differences in (a) inter-individual variation in the adrenocortical response, (b) repeatability, and (c) relationships between corticosterone levels and phenotypic quality. In males, variation in nestling corticosterone was weakly but positively correlated with brood size and negatively correlated with nestling mass (though this relationship was dependent on one individual). There was no significant correlation of adrenocortical responses between two stages in males and adult phenotypic quality was significantly correlated only with adult corticosterone levels. In contrast, in females there was no relationship between nestling corticosterone and brood size or mass but adrenocortical response was repeatable between two stages (r2 = 0.413). Phenotypic quality of adult females was correlated with nestling baseline and adrenocortical response.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)472-480
    Number of pages9
    JournalHormones and Behavior
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Mar 2008


    • Adrenocortical response
    • Individual variation
    • Phenotypic quality
    • Taeniopygia guttata


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