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Chronological age, biological age, and individual variation in the stress response in the European starling: A follow-up study

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Annie Poll, Dr Clare Andrews, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD, Professor Daniel Nettle



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Copyright 2018 Gott et al. The strength of the avian stress response declines with age. A recently published study of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) found that a marker of biological age predicted the strength of the stress response even in individuals of the same chronological age. Specifically, birds that had experienced greater developmental telomere attrition (DTA) showed a lower peak corticosterone (CORT) response to an acute stressor, and more rapid recovery of CORT levels towards baseline. Here, we performed a follow-up study using the same capture-handling-restraint stressor in a separate cohort of starlings that had been subjected to a developmental manipulation of food availability and begging effort. We measured the CORT response at two different age points (4 and 18 months). Our data suggest a decline in the strength of the CORT response with chronological age: peak CORT was lower at the second age point, and there was relatively more reduction in CORT between 15 and 30 min. Individual consistency between the two age points was low, but there were modest familial effects on baseline and peak CORT. The manipulation of begging effort affected the stress response (specifically, the reduction in CORT between 15 and 30 min) in an age-dependent manner. However, we did not replicate the associations with DTA observed in the earlier study. We meta-analysed the data from the present and the earlier study combined, and found some support for the conclusions of the earlier paper.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gott A, Andrews C, Hormigos ML, Spencer K, Bateson M, Nettle D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PeerJ

Year: 2018

Volume: 6

Online publication date: 23/10/2018

Acceptance date: 27/09/2018

Date deposited: 14/11/2018

ISSN (electronic): 2167-8359

Publisher: PeerJ Ltd


DOI: 10.7717/peerj.5842


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Funder referenceFunder name
AdG 666669 (COMSTAR)
BB/J016446/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)