Baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels are heritable and genetically correlated in a barn owl population

Paul BéziersAlexandre Roulin


The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is responsible for the regulation of corticosterone, a hormone that is essential in the mediation of energy allocation and physiological stress. As a continuous source of challenge and stress for organisms, the environment has promoted the evolution of physiological adaptations and led to a great variation in corticosterone profiles within or among individuals, populations and species. In order to evolve via natural selection, corticosterone levels do not only depend on the strength of selection exerted on them, but also on the extent to which the regulation of corticosterone is heritable. Nevertheless, the heritability of corticosterone profiles in wild populations is still poorly understood. In this study, we estimated the heritability of baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels in barn owl (Tyto alba) nestlings from 8 years of data, using a multivariate animal model based on a behavioural pedigree. We found that baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels are strongly genetically correlated (r = 0.68-0.80) and that the heritability of stress-induced corticosterone levels (h2 = 0.24-0.33) was moderate and similar to the heritability of baseline corticosterone levels...Continue Reading


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