Apr 10, 2020

Hierarchical fear: parental behaviour and corticosterone release mediate nestling growth in response to predation risk

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Devin R de Zwaan, K. Martin


Nestling development, a critical life-stage for altricial songbirds, is highly vulnerable to predation, particularly for open-cup nesting species. Since nest predation risk increases cumulatively with time, rapid growth may be an adaptive response that promotes early fledging. However, greater predation risk can reduce parental provisioning rate as a risk aversion strategy and subsequently constrain nestling growth, or directly elicit a physiological response in nestlings with adaptive or detrimental effects on development rate. Despite extensive theory, evidence for the relative strength of these effects on nestling development in response to prevailing predation risk and the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. For an alpine population of horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), we elevated perceived predation risk (decoys/playback) during the nestling stage to assess the influence of predator cues and parental care on nestling wing growth and the glucocorticoid hormone corticosterone. We used piecewise path analysis to test a hypothesized causal response structure composed of direct and indirect pathways. Nestlings under greater perceived predation risk reduced corticosterone and increased wing growth, resulting in an earlier ag...Continue Reading

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