Feather-based measures of stable isotopes and corticosterone reveal a relationship between trophic position and physiology in a pelagic seabird over a 153-year period

Graham D. Fairhurst, Alexander L. Bond, Keith A. Hobson, Robert A. Ronconi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Diet during the non‐breeding period influences condition and subsequent reproduction. Physiological mechanisms underlying such carry‐over effects are poorly understood but could be clarified by studying physiological responses to variation in diet during non‐breeding. The hormone corticosterone provides a functional link between diet and survival and reproduction, but methodological limitations have prevented previous studies from testing the hypothesis that, on an individual level, avian corticosterone levels during the non‐breeding period reflect broader patterns in feeding ecology during that time. Using museum specimens (1859–2002) and live birds (2012), we found that corticosterone from feathers (CORTf) is negatively related to trophic position (TP) inferred from feather stable‐nitrogen isotope values (δ15N) in Leach's Storm‐petrels Oceanodroma leucorhoa. CORTf was not related to stable‐carbon isotope values (δ13C). We detected no temporal trends in CORTf or δ15N, and neither was related to a large‐scale index of winter climate, suggesting a general ecological phenomenon rather than a reflection of historical environmental changes. However, we detected a temporal trend in feather δ13C, and δ13C was related to δ15N. Our findings suggest a physiological benefit of feeding at higher TPs, either through increased nutritional value or reduced foraging costs associated with higher TP prey, and future research should aim to distinguish between these two explanations. Nevertheless, ours is the first evidence of a correlation between individual endocrine levels and foraging ecology, and demonstrates non‐lethal variation in a physiological mediator in turn related to variation in resource use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-283
Number of pages11
JournalIBIS
Volume157
Issue number2
Early online date18 Mar 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015

Keywords

  • carbon-13
  • carry-over effects
  • environme ntal stressors
  • foraging ecology
  • glucocorticoids
  • North Atlantic Oscillation
  • nitrogen-15
  • non-breeding period
  • non-invasive biomarkers
  • seabird diet

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