Under a neighbour's influence: public information affects stress hormones and behaviour of a songbird

Jamie M. Cornelius, Creagh W. Breuner, Thomas P. Hahn

Abstract

Socially acquired information improves the accuracy and efficiency of environmental assessments and can increase fitness. Public information may be especially useful during unpredictable food conditions, or for species that depend on resources made less predictable by human disturbance. However, the physiological mechanisms by which direct foraging assessments and public information are integrated to affect behaviour remain largely unknown. We tested for potential effects of public information on the behavioural and hormonal response to food reduction by manipulating the social environment of captive red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra). Red crossbills are irruptive migrants that are considered sensitive to changes in food availability and use public information in decision making. Here, we show that public information can attenuate or intensify the release of glucocorticoids (i.e. stress hormones) during food shortage in red crossbills. The observed modulation of corticosterone may therefore be a physiological mechanism linking public information, direct environmental assessments and behavioural change. This mechanism would not only allow for public information to affect individual behaviour, but might also facilitate group decision making by bringing group members into more similar physiological states. The results further suggest that stressors affecting entire populations may be magnified in individual physiology through social interactions.

Footnotes

    • Received January 25, 2010.
    • Accepted March 10, 2010.
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