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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 1999 May;114(2):163-72.

The effects of an "El Niño" southern oscillation event on reproduction in male and female blue-footed boobies, Sula nebouxii.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, 98195, USA.


This study attempted to determine endocrine correlates of reproductive success in relation to major deleterious environmental conditions. In 1992, an El Niño southern oscillation event resulted in complete reproductive failure in a colony of blue-footed boobies, Sula nebouxi, on Isla Isabel in the Pacific Ocean off San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico (21.5 degrees N, 105.5 degrees W). In 1993, the El Niño event had waned and reproductive success was high. The mean sea surface temperature in 1992 was 26.69 degrees, the warmest year for 11 years of data (mean, 25.63 degrees ). In 1993, mean sea surface temperature was 25.75 degrees. Plasma levels of testosterone were highest during the egg-laying period in 1993 and declined markedly during incubation. There were no differences between males and females. Comparisons of testosterone levels between 1992 and 1993 (egg-laying time point removed for 1993) showed no significant differences. Thus reproductive failure during an El Niño year was not related to testosterone levels. Baseline plasma levels of corticosterone did not change over the nesting cycle in either sex. There was a trend for plasma levels of corticosterone to be higher in males and females during the earlier stages of breeding in 1992 compared with 1993, and if all levels were combined within years then females showed significantly higher plasma levels of corticosterone in the El Niño year. Plasma levels of corticosterone showed marked increases following capture and handling in both sexes and at every stage of the breeding cycle in each year. There was no variation in the adrenocortical responses to stress with year or stage of nesting in males. However, in females, maximum corticosterone levels were greatest during the parental phase of 1992, the El Niño year, when all nests ultimately failed. Comparisons of the dynamics of corticosterone changes during the capture stress protocol revealed no correlations with body mass in 1992 or 1993. These data suggest that although massive reproductive failure in the El Niño year was not related to testosterone levels, baseline circulating concentrations of corticosterone may have a role in inhibiting onset of breeding. In contrast, after the nesting cycle has been initiated, increased adrenocortical sensitivity to acute stress may be involved in nest abandonment.

Copyright 1999 Academic Press.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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