, Volume 169, Issue 4-5, pp 303-310

The adrenocortical stress-response of Black-legged Kittiwake chicks in relation to dietary restrictions

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In this study we examined hormonal responses of Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissatridactyla) chicks to experimental variations in energy content and nutritional quality (low or high lipid to protein ratio, LPR) of their food. Starting at the age of 10 days, chicks were fed either high or low LPR fish at 30, 50, 70 and 100% of ad libitum energy intake. After 20 days of treatment, chicks were exposed to a standardized acute handling and restraint stress protocol, where a baseline sample was taken immediately after taking a chick from the nest, and three additional blood samples were taken at intervals up to 50 min. Testosterone and corticosterone titres in plasma were measured via radioimmunoassay. We found that baseline testosterone levels were not significantly affected by the experimental treatments. Food-restricted chicks had elevated baseline and acute stress-induced levels of corticosterone compared to chicks fed ad libitum. An elevation of circulating levels of corticosterone in energetically stressed individuals was further magnified by low nutritional quality of food. Baseline and acute stress-induced corticosterone levels of chicks were negatively correlated with their fat reserves. We conclude that the physiological condition of Black-legged Kittiwake chicks can be assessed reliably by measuring circulating levels of corticosterone. We discuss short- and long-term effects of elevated corticosterone secretion in food-stressed nest-bound chicks.

Accepted: 13 April 1999