Post-natal corticosterone exposure affects ornaments in adult male house sparrows (Passer domesticus)
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In vertebrates, the ontogeny of several crucial organismal systems is known to occur early in life. Developmental conditions can ultimately have important consequences on adult fitness by affecting individual phenotype. These developmental effects are thought to be primarily mediated by endocrine systems, and especially by glucocorticoids. In this study, we tested how post-natal exposure to corticosterone (the primary avian glucocorticoid) may subsequently affect the expression of ornaments in adult male house sparrows (Passer domesticus). Specifically, we investigated the long-term consequences of this manipulation on the size and color of several visual signals: badge, wing bar, tarsus and beak. Post-natal corticosterone exposure had a strong negative impact on the size, but not the color, of some male ornaments (badge and wing bar surface area). Because wing bar and badge surface area are used as sexual and/or hierarchical signals in house sparrow, we showed that early life stress can affect some aspect of attractiveness and social status in this species with potentially important fitness consequences (e.g. sexual selection and reproductive performance). Future studies need now to explore the costs and benefits of this developmental plasticity for individuals (i.e. fitness).
author list (cited authors)
Dupont, S. M., Grace, J. K., Brischoux, F., & Angelier, F.