Current research in birds suggests that a conflict should exist during reproduction for the role of the glucocorticoid corticosterone (CORT). While elevated levels have been correlated with the increased energetic demand of raising offspring, elevated CORT levels have traditionally been implicated in reproductive abandonment. We examined the relationship between CORT and nest desertion in breeding wild female European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) incorporating analyses of both total circulating levels and 'free', unbound CORT through analysis of corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG). Free baseline CORT levels of nest-abandoning birds were significantly higher than nonabandoning birds within each stage, with chick-rearing birds exhibiting the highest free baseline CORT levels, while concurrently remaining the most resistant stage to nest desertion. Elevated free baseline CORT levels in chick-rearing birds were not due to increased total CORT secretion, but rather to a decrease in CBG levels. Overall, our results suggest that CORT and CBG interact to play a role in mediating the increased energetic demand of offspring, while minimizing the chances of nest desertion, thereby alleviating any potential behavioral conflict for CORT during reproduction. Furthermore, these results demonstrate that the traditional view of the role of CORT during reproduction is much more complex than previously appreciated. Together with mounting evidence, we suggest that elevated corticosteroid levels are an inherent and necessary part of reproduction in nonmammalian tetrapods.
- Corticosteroid-binding globulin
- European starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
- Nest desertion