Differential reproductive responses to stress reveal the role of life-history strategies within a species
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionProceedings of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences. 2013, 280 (1771: 20132090), . 10.1098/rspb.2013.2090
Life-history strategies describe that ‘slow’- in contrast to ‘fast’-living species allocate resources cautiously towards reproduction to enhance survival. Recent evidence suggests that variation in strategies exists not only among species but also among populations of the same species. Here, we examined the effect of experimentally induced stress on resource allocation of breeding seabirds in two populations with contrasting life-history strategies: slow-living Pacific and fast-living Atlantic black-legged kittiwakes. We tested the hypothesis that reproductive responses in kittiwakes under stress reflect their life-history strategies. We predicted that in response to stress, Pacific kittiwakes reduce investment in reproduction compared with Atlantic kittiwakes. We exposed chick-rearing kittiwakes to a short-term (3-day) period of increased exogenous corticosterone (CORT), a hormone that is released during food shortages. We examined changes in baseline CORT levels, parental care and effects on offspring. We found that kittiwakes from the two populations invested differently in offspring when facing stress. In response to elevated CORT, Pacific kittiwakes reduced nest attendance and deserted offspring more readily than Atlantic kittiwakes. We observed lower chick growth, a higher stress response in offspring and lower reproductive success in response to CORT implantation in Pacific kittiwakes, whereas the opposite occurred in the Atlantic. Our findings support the hypothesis that life-history strategies predict short-term responses of individuals to stress within a species. We conclude that behaviour and physiology under stress are consistent with trade-off priorities as predicted by life-history theory. We encourage future studies to consider the pivotal role of life-history strategies when interpreting inter-population differences of animal responses to stressful environmental events.