Publication details

Use of feathers for analysis of stress and condition in barn swallows (Hirundo rustica)



Year of publication 2017
Type Conference abstract
Description For birds, replacing feathers during moulting is energetically demanding. Feather ornamentation develops during the moulting period to be used for sexual signalling during the breeding season. Stress and sex hormones may be involved in regulating the development of feather-based sexual signals, but most studies focusing on the link between hormone levels and feather ornaments use plasma hormone concentrations typically obtained during the breeding season, i.e. long after feather ornaments develop. In fact, feathers themselves can offer valuable information about stress levels and condition of an individual bird in time of moulting. In thebarn swallow, long-distance trans-Sahara migrant, we employed an improved LC-MS-based method to quantify stress hormone corticosterone (CORT) deposited in feathers over the period of feather growth at the wintering grounds. In addition, we used ptilochronology to get an information about individual condition (nutrition status) during the period of feather development. We tested the relationships between feather CORT concentration (CORTf) in contour feathers, maximum length of outer tail streamers (an important sexual trait in the European barn swallow subspecies) and growth rate of inner non ornamental tail feathers (GR). We found that individuals with high CORTf levels had shorter outer tail streamers and slower feather growth rate. These results suggest an involvement of stress hormones in feather growth in barn swallows, which may help understanding mechanisms ensuring honesty of body condition signalling via tail streamers in European barn swallows. Analysis of hormone concentrations in feathers is a very suitable method for studies of carry-over effects linking periods of wintering and breeding in long-distance migrants. Supported by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (project LH14045) and CSF project 15- 11782S.

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