Migratory flight is energetically challenging, requiring alternating phases of fuel catabolism and fuel accumulation, accompanied by dramatic changes in body composition and behavior. Baseline corticosterone (CORT; the primary glucocorticoid in birds) is thought to underlie transitions between fuel catabolism during flight, fuel deposition during stopover, and the initiation of migratory flight. However, studies of CORT on stopover physiology and behavior remain disparate efforts, lacking the cohesion of a general hypothesis. Here we develop a Stopover-CORT hypothesis formalizing the relationships among CORT, body condition, and refueling rate in migratory birds. First we expect body mass to increase with triglycerides (TRIG) as birds refuel. Second, based on a synthesis of previous literature, we predict a U-shaped CORT curve over the course of stopover, postulating that elevated CORT at arrival is reactive, responding to poor body condition, while CORT elevation before departure is preparative, driving changes in behavior and body condition. We tested these predictions in Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) following a trans-Gulf flight during spring migration. We found baseline CORT was negatively correlated with body condition and TRIG, corresponding with our predictions for arriving and refueling—but not departing—birds. It is possible catbirds undergo regional habitat translocations rather than complete the entire stopover phase at our study site. We propose the Stopover-CORT hypothesis as a useful predictive framework for future studies of the mechanistic basis of stopover physiology. By studying the regulation of stopover refueling and departure, we may better understand physiological limitations to overall migration rate and improve assessments of habitat quality for refueling birds.
- Quantitative magnetic resonance
- Stopover physiology
- Stopover refueling