Experimentally reducing corticosterone mitigates rapid captivity effects on behavior, but not body composition, in a wild bird
© 2017 Elsevier Inc. Wild animals and captives display physiological and behavioral differences, and it has been hypothesized, but rarely tested, that these differences are caused by sustained elevation of the hormone corticosterone. We used repeated computed tomography (CT) imaging to examine body composition changes in breeding male and female wild house sparrows (Passer domesticus; n = 20) in response to two weeks of captivity, and assessed behavioral changes using video recordings. Half of the birds received the drug mitotane, which significantly decreased stress-induced corticosterone titers compared to controls. Based on the CT images, fat volumes increased, and pectoralis muscle density and heart and testes volumes decreased, over the two weeks of captivity in both groups of birds. However, beak-wiping, a behavior that can indicate anxiety and aggression, showed increased occurrence in controls compared to mitotane-treated birds. While our results do not support the hypothesis that these body composition changes were primarily driven by stress-induced corticosterone, our data suggest that experimentally reducing stress-induced corticosterone may mitigate some captivity-induced behavioral changes. Broadly, our results emphasize that researchers should take behavioral and physiological differences between free-living animals and captives into consideration when designing studies and interpreting results. Further, time in captivity should be minimized when birds will be reintroduced back to the wild.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Hormones and Behavior
Lattin, C., Pechenenko, A., & Carson, R. (2017). Experimentally reducing corticosterone mitigates rapid captivity effects on behavior, but not body composition, in a wild bird. Hormones and Behavior, 89, 121-129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.12.016