Stressed Seabird Parents Think Only Of Themselves

2017-03-17T12:59:47+00:00 March 17, 2017|
A new study shows parent and offspring birds stress habits. (Credit: Richard Crossley / wikimedia commons)

(Click to enlarge) A new study shows parent and offspring birds stress habits. (Credit: Richard Crossley / wikimedia commons)

Stress is a factor not only in the best human families; it also appears among animals. To see how bird family members interact with each other in stressful situations, researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Gdansk, Poland, studied parent-offspring interactions in a long-lived seabird, the little auk (Alle alle).

(From Science Daily)– The scientists gave parent and offspring birds a hormone pellet to increase their “stress levels,” with the result that stressed offspring not only intensified their begging but also received more food than “relaxed” chicks. Nevertheless, increased begging was not the determining factor of the parent-offspring interaction. When parent birds were stressed, they automatically reduced offspring feeding and spent more time searching for food for themselves. The parent-offspring interaction among little auks therefore clearly depended on the state of the adult bird, even though little auks usually raise only a single chick. The results have been published in the Journal of Ornithology.

Little auks (Alle alle) breed in large colonies on rocky cliffsides in arctic regions. These seabirds live in a harsh environment and often face stress in the form of food shortages and poor weather conditions. But this isn’t the only thing that makes them so suitable to study stress-induced behavioural mechanisms. They also are of interest for their long lifespan and because little auks raise only a single chick during the year, which excludes sibling rivalry as a factor in stress studies. A team of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Gdansk in Poland thus attained informative insights into the interaction between long-lived birds and their offspring.

“Birds respond to stressful situations by releasing the hormone corticosterone,” explains senior author Rupert Palme from the Department of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Experimental Endocrinology at Vetmeduni Vienna. This makes corticosterone an important stress indicator in behavioural studies. Hormone pellets can be used to artificially release corticosterone into the birds’ bloodstream in order to observe the animals’ behaviour under stress. The pellets have the advantage that corticosterone is released in a controlled fashion continuously over a certain period of time. An analysis of faecal samples can be used to show that the additional hormone was metabolised by the body. The internationally recognised method of measuring faecal hormone metabolites was developed by senior author Palme.

To analyse the mechanisms controlling familiar interactions among little auks, the researchers first implanted offspring birds, then parents with hormone-releasing pellets. Chick behaviour was analysed using acoustic recordings, that of the parents by looking at feeding intervals and time spent away from the nest or colony.

Read the full article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170310091519.htm