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J Evol Biol. 2011 Jun;24(6):1274-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02260.x. Epub 2011 Mar 28.

What drives variation in the corticosterone stress response between subspecies? A common garden experiment of swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana).

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  • 1Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008, USA.


Although differences in the corticosterone stress response have frequently been reported between populations or closely related subspecies, their origin remains unclear. These differences may appear because individuals adjust their corticosterone stress response to the environmental conditions they are experiencing. However, they may also result from selection that has favoured individuals with specific corticosterone stress response or from environmental factors that have affected the development of the corticosterone stress response during early life. We investigated these hypotheses by studying the corticosterone stress response of two closely related subspecies of swamp sparrows (Melospiza sp.). We showed for the first time that two closely related subspecies can differ in their corticosterone stress response when raised at the laboratory and held in similar conditions for a year. Thus, we demonstrated that selection, developmental processes or a conjunction of both of these processes can account for variation in the stress response between closely related subspecies.

© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2011 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.

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