Seasonal changes in stress steroid hormone secretions are thought to reflect investment in self-maintenance versus reproduction. The capricious conditions hypothesis (CCH) posits that reduced corticosterone (CORT) secretion during stress coincident with parental phases of breeding is necessary in harsh environments because a full response would otherwise trigger repeated nest abandonments. To test this hypothesis, we measured seasonal changes in stress physiology in free-living red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra), an opportunistically breeding songbird that regularly breeds in summer and winter. This species allows unique comparisons of breeding physiology under very different seasonal environmental conditions within locations. We found strong support for the CCH: red crossbills showed reduced CORT secretion only when in high reproductive condition in the winter, when compared with summer breeders and winter non-breeders. These data demonstrate that behavioural status and local environmental conditions interact to affect mechanisms underlying investment trade-offs, presumably in a way that maximizes lifetime reproductive success.
- Red crossbill