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J Comp Physiol B. 2001 Nov;171(8):701-9.

Dietary restriction causes chronic elevation of corticosterone and enhances stress response in red-legged kittiwake chicks.

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


Release of corticosterone in hungry kittiwake chicks facilitates begging and allows them to restore depleted energy reserves by increasing parental food provisioning. However, in order to avoid detrimental effects of chronic elevation of corticosterone, chicks might suppress adrenocortical activity in response to prolonged food shortages. In this study we examined temporal dynamics of corticosterone release in red-legged kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris) chicks exposed to prolonged restrictions in energy content and/or nutritional quality (low versus high lipid content) of their food. Starting at the age of 15 days, chicks were fed either high- or low-lipid fish at 40%, 65%, and 100% of ad libitum energy intake. Body mass measurements and baseline plasma samples were taken on a weekly basis after beginning of the treatment. After 3 weeks of treatment, chicks were exposed to a standardized acute handling and restraint stress protocol, where in addition to a baseline sample, three plasma samples were taken at intervals up to 50 min. We found that food-restricted chicks had lower body mass, chronically (during 2-3 weeks) elevated baseline and higher acute stress-induced levels of corticosterone compared to chicks fed ad libitum. Low lipid content of food further exacerbated these effects. An increase in baseline levels of corticosterone was observed within a week after energy requirements of food-restricted chicks exceeded their daily energy intake. A tendency for suppression of adrenocortical activity was observed in treatments fed low-lipid diets only at the end of the experiment. We suggest that nest-bound chicks, if food-stressed, might suffer deleterious effects of chronic elevation of corticosterone.

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