To see how bird family members interact with each other in stressful situations, researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Gdansk, Poland, studied parent-offspring interactions in a long-lived seabird, the little auk (Alle alle). They increased their “stress levels”, with the result that stressed offspring intensified their begging and received more food than “relaxed” chicks. When parent birds were stressed, they however reduced offspring feeding searching for food for themselves, even though little auks usually raise only a single chick. The results have been published in the Journal of Ornithology.
Little auks (Alle alle) breed in large colonies on rocky cliffsides in arctic regions. These seabirds live in a harsh environment and often face stress in the form of food shortages and poor weather conditions. But this isn’t the only thing that makes them so suitable to study stress-induced behavioural mechanisms.
They also are of interest for their long lifespan and because little auks raise only a single chick during the year, which excludes sibling rivalry as a factor in stress studies. A team of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Gdansk in Poland thus attained informative insights into the interaction between long-lived birds and their offspring.
Stress behaviour in birds controlled by hormones
“Birds respond to stressful situations by releasing the hormone corticosterone,” explains senior author Rupert Palme from the Department of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Experimental Endocrinology at Vetmeduni Vienna. This makes corticosterone an important stress indicator in behavioural studies. Hormone pellets can be used to artificially release corticosterone into the birds’ bloodstream in order to observe the animals’ behaviour under stress.
The pellets have the advantage that corticosterone is released in a controlled fashion continuously over a certain period of time. An analysis of faecal samples can be used to show that the additional hormone was metabolised by the body. The internationally recognised method of measuring faecal hormone metabolites was developed by senior author Palme.
To analyse the mechanisms controlling familiar interactions among little auks, the researchers first implanted offspring birds, then parents with hormone-releasing pellets. Chick behaviour was analysed using acoustic recordings, that of the parents by looking at feeding intervals and time spent away from the nest or colony.
Little auk offspring come in second place
Nestlings responded to the artificially heightened stress levels by increasing their begging performance. “More food means more reserves, better fitness and, therefore, a higher chance of survival,” says first author Dorota Kidawa from the University of Gdansk, Poland. “The intensified begging behaviour was a cry for help directed at the parent birds that was clearly successful.” The stressed offspring weighed more than the control chicks, which indicates that they had been fed more frequently by the parent birds. “Our study shows that adult little auks usually go to their limit, to their caring maximum, in order to give their offspring enough to eat,” says Palme.
The second test, however, in which the researchers implanted a hormone pellet into one of the parent birds, showed that this limit depends on the stress level of the parent bird and not on the begging behaviour of the young little auks. Under stress, parent birds alter their behaviour to their own benefit. They left the nest for longer periods of time to provide more food for themselves. As a result, they fed their young less frequently and the physical state of the offspring worsened considerably compared to the control group.
Despite egoistic survival instinct, the birds are not bad parents
“The begging behaviour elicited a care response among the adult little auks. But this response, and its extent, depend on how fit the parent birds feel,” says Palme. If their own chance of survival is reduced because of a food shortage or weather conditions, they will focus more on themselves and spend more time looking for their own food than on the care of their only chick.
“But that doesn’t make them bad parents,” says Palme. “This is a normal occurrence in nature that cannot be compared to our behaviour and sense of responsibility.” For the long-lived little auks, it is more important to secure their own existence, to survive another year and to raise another offspring in the future. After all, poor food conditions and environmental factors can also reduce the young birds’ chance of survival.
The article “Parent-offspring interactions in a long-lived seabird, the Little Auk (Alle alle): begging and provisioning under simulated stress“ by D. Kidawa, M. Barcikowski and R. Palme was published in Journal of Ornithology. DOI: 10.1007/s10336-016-1382-y
About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.vetmeduni.ac.at
Unit of Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Experimental Endocrinology
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 25077-4103
University of Gdansk, Poland
Science Communication / Corporate Communications
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 25077-1165
Mag.rer.nat Georg Mair | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
How molecules teeter in a laser field
18.01.2019 | Forschungsverbund Berlin
Discovery of enhanced bone growth could lead to new treatments for osteoporosis
18.01.2019 | University of California - Los Angeles
The scientific and political community alike stress the importance of German Antarctic research
Joint Press Release from the BMBF and AWI
The Antarctic is a frigid continent south of the Antarctic Circle, where researchers are the only inhabitants. Despite the hostile conditions, here the Alfred...
World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles
The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.
Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.
In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...
Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.
It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:
The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.
One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...
16.01.2019 | Event News
14.01.2019 | Event News
12.12.2018 | Event News
18.01.2019 | Materials Sciences
18.01.2019 | Life Sciences
18.01.2019 | Health and Medicine