Parent-offspring interactions in a long-lived seabird, the Little Auk (Alle alle): begging and provisioning under simulated stress
Glucocorticoids participate in the control of whole body homoeostasis and an organism’s response to stress. Corticosterone, which is the principal glucocorticoid in birds, has been shown to increase in response to different energetic demands and perturbations that individuals have to cope with. In this study, a non-invasive method to examine the corticosterone secretion by measuring faecal corticosterone metabolites (FCM) has been established for an Arctic seabird, the Little Auk (Alle alle). A group-specific immunoassay was successfully validated for adults and chicks using an adrenocorticotropic challenge test. Then, FCM levels were investigated under different energetic and physiological demands, determined by weather conditions, week of chick rearing in adults, and age in chicks. The amount of rainfall had no effect on FCM levels in adults, whereas it negatively affected FCM levels in chicks. There was no variation in FCM concentrations among weeks of chick rearing in adults. In chicks, the FCM levels increased with age. Moreover, chicks with higher FCM levels had lower body mass and fledged later than chicks with lower FCM levels. This study demonstrates that environmental stress such as poor weather conditions can trigger significant changes in corticosterone levels in seabird chicks. Furthermore, the results indicate that corticosterone may be involved in the physiological and behavioural adjustments necessary for successful fledging and post-fledging survival.