Corticosterone, Avoidance of Novelty, Risk-Taking and Aggression in a Wild Bird: No Evidence for Pleiotropic Effects



László Zsolt Garamszegi, Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Estación Biológica de Doñana-CSIC, c/Americo Vespucio, s/n, 41092, Sevilla, Spain.



Certain inherent characteristics of individuals can determine both physiological and behavioural responses to environmental challenges, which could drive a correlation between levels of corticosterone (CORT), the most important stress hormone and behavioural profiles. Therefore, CORT level may mediate consistent behaviours along the shy/bold continuum, and thus, it could serve as a pleiotropic basis for behavioural syndromes. Moreover, behavioural responses to environmental challenges may have consequences for CORT concentrations, which would also result in a correlation between physiology and behaviours even without requiring pleiotropic mechanisms. Accordingly, we investigated the relationship between CORT and behaviour in free-living male collared flycatchers, Ficedula albicollis, using recently developed field assays. More specifically, we characterised novel object avoidance, intraspecific aggression and risk-taking in males and related these correlated behaviours to the concentration of CORT metabolites in droppings measured by enzyme immunoassay. Individuals with higher levels of excreted CORT metabolites had no consistently higher or lower behavioural scores along the shy/bold spectrum, as avoidance of novelty, aggression and risk-taking were not systematically related to CORT metabolite concentrations in the same direction. Moreover, environmental challenges owing to the presence of a novel object, territorial intruder and a potential predator caused no elevation in the level of CORT metabolites. Therefore, we did not find correlative evidence for CORT driving correlated behaviours through pleiotropic effects or for particular behaviours during courtship causing elevation in CORT levels.