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Biol Lett. 2010 Dec 23;6(6):846-9. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0376. Epub 2010 Jun 23.

Hormonal correlates of individual quality in a long-lived bird: a test of the 'corticosterone-fitness hypothesis'.

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Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS, Villiers en Bois, France.


Measuring individual quality in vertebrates is difficult. Focusing on allostasis mechanisms may be useful because they are functionally involved in the ability of an individual to survive and reproduce in its environment. Thus, a rise in stress hormones levels (corticosterone) occurs when an organism has to cope with challenging environmental conditions. This has recently led to the proposal of the 'cort-fitness hypothesis', which suggests that elevated baseline corticosterone levels should be found in individuals of poor quality that have difficulty coping with their environment. We tested this hypothesis by comparing an integrative measure of individual quality to baseline corticosterone in black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys). We found that individual baseline corticosterone levels were related to individual quality and highly repeatable from one breeding season to the next. Importantly, this relationship was found in males, but not in females. Therefore, we suggest that the relationship between quality and baseline corticosterone levels may depend on the environmental and energetic constraints that individuals have to cope with.

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