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Horm Behav. 2007 Feb;51(2):273-80. Epub 2006 Dec 28.

Delayed behavioral effects of postnatal exposure to corticosterone in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata).

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Crown Street, Liverpool, L69 7ZB, UK.


Early developmental conditions can significantly influence the growth and survival of many animal species. We studied the consequences of exposure to corticosterone (CORT), a stress hormone, during the nestling stage on two behavioral traits (neophobia, social dominance) measured when the birds had reached independence. Nestling zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) were exposed twice daily to exogenous CORT via oral administration for a 12-day period up until fledging. Experimental CORT administration depressed nestling growth rates, confirming results previously obtained in this species. Our data on neophobic behavior revealed a significant interaction between sex and treatment, with CORT-dosed males showing reduced latencies to approach a novel object, while there was little effect of corticosterone treatment on female neophobia. There was no significant effect of age (30 or 50 days), however, there was a non-significant trend towards an interaction between treatment and age, with neophobia increasing with age in the CORT-dosed birds, but decreasing in controls. At 50 days of age previous exposure to corticosterone resulted in reduced success in competitions for a non-food-based resource (a perch) in both sexes. There were no effects of brood size on any behavioral traits measured here, but this may be due to the small range in brood size used. Our results show that elevated levels of stress hormones during postnatal development can have significant effects on important behavioral traits, i.e., neophobia and dominance. Moreover, they confirm the importance of rearing conditions in shaping adult phenotypes.

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