The corticosterone stress response and mercury contamination in free-living tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor
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We determined mercury concentrations in tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, from Massachusetts and Maine with different levels of contamination. Baseline and stress-induced plasma corticosterone concentrations from adults and nestlings (Massachusetts only) were compared with mercury concentrations. In Massachusetts, adult baseline corticosterone was negatively correlated with blood mercury, but showed a nearly-significant positive correlation with feather mercury. There was a negative relationship between baseline corticosterone and blood mercury in nestlings and between baseline corticosterone and egg mercury. There was no relationship between mercury and stress-induced corticosterone in any of the groups, or with baseline corticosterone in Maine sites where mercury levels were lower. The findings suggest blood and egg mercury may be a better indicator of current condition than feather mercury. Further, mercury contamination may not alter stress-induced corticosterone concentrations in tree swallows but appears to have a significant impact on baseline circulating corticosterone.