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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2005 Sep 15;143(3):231-9.

Stress responses and disease in three wintering house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) populations along a latitudinal gradient.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 106 Guyot Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.


In laboratory studies, stress hormones have been shown to impair immune functions, and increase susceptibility to diseases. However, the interactions between stress hormones and disease have rarely been studied in free-ranging populations. In this study, we measured concentrations of the avian stress hormone corticosterone across four winter months (December-March) over two years in three eastern North American house finch populations (Carpodacus mexicanus) along a latitudinal gradient. Because Mycoplasma gallisepticum infections appear in these populations in late winter, we hypothesized that the timing of the disease outbreaks could be mediated by changes in corticosterone concentrations. We found a significant increase in baseline and stress-induced plasma corticosterone concentrations in house finches without Mycoplasma symptoms in late winter; when the prevalence of Mycoplasma infection peaks. We also found that house finches with Mycoplasma symptoms had elevated stress-induced corticosterone concentrations. High baseline concentrations were associated with a low body condition and a high fat load. We found that the relationship between corticosterone concentrations and the latitude of the study population changed between years. The first year, corticosterone concentrations were lowest in the southern latitude, but became higher in the second year when average winter temperatures were low. A causal understanding of the implications for this variation in corticosterone concentrations for Mycoplasma disease dynamics awaits further studies.

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