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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 May 22;104(21):8880-4. Epub 2007 May 15.

Stress response during development predicts fitness in a wild, long lived vertebrate.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 5E2.


Short-term elevation of circulating glucocorticosteroids (GCs) in vertebrates facilitates the adoption of a distinct emergency life history state, which allows individuals to cope with perturbations and recover homeostasis at the expense of temporarily suppressing nonessential activities. Although GC responses are viewed as a major evolutionary mechanism to maximize fitness through stress management, phenotypic variability exists within animal populations, and it remains unclear whether interindividual differences in stress physiology can explain variance in unequivocal components of fitness. We show that the magnitude of the adrenocortical response to a standardized perturbation during development is negatively related to survival and recruitment in a wild population of long lived birds. Our results provide empirical evidence for a link between stress response, not exposure to stressors, and fitness in a vertebrate under natural conditions. Recent studies suggest that variability in the adrenocortical response to stress may be maintained if high and low GC responders represent alternative coping strategies, with differential adaptive value depending on environmental conditions. Increased fitness among low GC responders, having a proactive personality, is predicted under elevated population density and availability of food resources, conditions that characterize our study population.

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