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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2002 Feb 1;125(2):197-206.

Variation within and between birds in corticosterone responses of great tits (Parus major).

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  • 1Conservation Endocrinology Research Group, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


The present study investigated inter- and intraindividual variation of the stress response (in terms of plasma levels of corticosterone) to handling in birds. Individual captive great tits (Parus major) were exposed to a standardised capture and handling protocol three times at about 2-week intervals. Mean plasma corticosterone levels were low (<5 ng/ml) when the birds were first sampled and increased in all birds 10 min after handling (mean levels on each sampling occasion 14 to 22 ng/ml). Levels in some birds then continued to increase, whereas in other birds levels remained relatively constant or had declined 30 min after handling began. Corticosterone responses were measured three times in each bird so that variation in plasma corticosterone levels could be defined. The area under the corticosterone response curve was defined as the integrated corticosterone response and was calculated for each response curve. Variation between birds was quantified by comparing mean values of corticosterone levels and integrated corticosterone responses between birds, then calculating a coefficient of variation for the mean of the individual bird means for each corticosterone parameter. Variation within birds was quantified by calculating the mean of the coefficients of variation for each bird for each corticosterone parameter. Variation in corticosterone levels in the first blood samples at 0 min (coefficient of variation (CV) 84.0%) was greater than variation in peak levels at 10 min (CV 35.1%) and in integrated corticosterone responses (CV 31.9%), indicating that corticosterone responses were more consistent between birds than were basal corticosterone levels. This study has demonstrated that corticosterone responses to a stressor tend to be repeatable in individual great tits, and has provided a method for quantifying variation in corticosterone responses for comparison with other birds in the future.

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