Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 155, Issue 2, pp 539–548 | Cite as

Corticosterone in territorial male Swainson’s Thrushes varies in relation to forest age but not vegetation cover

  • James W. RiversEmail author
  • Andrea L. Liebl
  • Lynn B. Martin
  • Matthew G. Betts
Original Article


Glucocorticoids are thought to be related to habitat quality and may provide information about the relative health of individuals. We used a model selection approach to test whether plasma glucocorticoid levels of the Swainson’s thrush (Catharus ustulatus) were associated with two attributes that may reflect breeding habitat quality in coniferous plantation forests: stand age and vegetation cover. For baseline corticosterone, the top model included stand age with limited support for models that included vegetation cover. Mean baseline corticosterone for territorial male thrushes sampled in mature stands was 78.2 % higher than territorial males sampled in early seral stands. For handling-induced corticosterone, there was limited separation among candidate models, and only one model, containing stand age and Julian day, was better supported than the null model. Despite previous research that has shown hardwood cover is an important component of breeding habitat quality for thrushes, our investigation found limited evidence that vegetation cover was associated with either baseline or handling-induced corticosterone levels. Given that early seral and mature conifer forests are characterized by markedly different habitat features, we hypothesize that the observed differences in baseline corticosterone represent either reduced fitness of male thrushes in mature stands or an adaptive adjustment of glucocorticoid levels to match local environmental conditions that equalize fitness across stands of different ages.


Catharus ustulatus Corticosterone Early seral forest Glucocorticoids Habitat quality Stress response Swainson’s Thrush 


Der Corticosteronspiegel territorialer Zwergdrossel-Männchen variiert in Abhängigkeit vom Waldalter und nicht von der Vegetationsbedeckung

Es wird vermutet, dass Glucocorticoide im Zusammenhang mit der Habitatqualität stehen und daher Aufschlüsse über den relativen Gesundheitszustand von Individuen ermöglichen könnten. Wir verwendeten einen Modellselektionsansatz, um zu prüfen, ob der Plasmaspiegel an Glucocorticoiden bei der Zwergdrossel (Catharus ustulatus) mit zwei Kenngrößen zusammenhängt, welche möglicherweise die Bruthabitatqualität wirtschaftlich genutzter Nadelwälder widerspiegeln könnten, nämlich Bestandsalter und Vegetationsbedeckung. Im Falle des Corticosteron-Grundspiegels beinhaltete das beste Modell das Bestandsalter und es gab eine eingeschränkte Bestätigung für Modelle, die die Vegetationsbedeckung berücksichtigten. Der durchschnittliche Grundspiegel an Corticosteron lag bei territorialen Zwergdrossel-Männchen in gereiften Wäldern um 78.2 % höher als in Proben von territorialen Männchen aus frühen Waldstadien. Im Falle des durch Eingriffe induzierten Corticosteronspiegels ließen sich die Kandidatenmodelle nur begrenzt auftrennen und nur für ein Modell, das Bestandsalter und die Julianische Tageszahl beinhaltete, ergab sich eine stärkere Bestätigung als für das Nullhypothese-Modell. Obwohl in früheren Studien gezeigt wurde, dass die Bedeckung mit Hartholzvegetation ein wichtiger Bestandteil der Bruthabitatqualität für die Drosseln ist, ergab sich in unserer Untersuchung nur ein schwacher Zusammenhang zwischen der Vegetationsbedeckung einerseits und dem basalen oder dem durch Eingriffe induzierten Corticosteronspiegel. In Anbetracht dessen, dass Frühstadien und Reifestadien von Koniferenwäldern sich durch deutlich verschiedene Habitatmerkmale auszeichnen, stellen wir die Hypothese auf, dass die beobachteten Unterschiede im basalen Corticosteronspiegel entweder eine geringere Fitness der Drosselmännchen in älteren Waldbeständen widerspiegeln, oder aber eine adaptive Anpassung des Glucocorticoidspiegels an die lokalen Umweltbedingungen darstellt, welche zu einer ausgeglichenen Fitness in Waldbeständen verschiedenen Alters führt.



The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Oregon State University, and a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI-2009-04457) to M.G.B. and J.W.R. provided funding for this work. L.B.M. and A.L.L. were supported by National Science Foundation (grant #0920475) during writing and for corticosterone assays. We thank Weyerhaeuser, Forest Capital, and the Oregon Department of Forestry for access to study sites; C. Beasley, R. Cahall, L. Clark, L. Hunt, L. Harter and D. Vander Pluym for assistance in the field; C. Freitag, L. Etherington, and T. Manning for logistical support; B. Horton for helpful discussion; C. Schwarz for statistical advice; and several anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • James W. Rivers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrea L. Liebl
    • 2
  • Lynn B. Martin
    • 2
  • Matthew G. Betts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department for Forest Ecosystems and SocietyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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