In several seabirds, nutritional state of a nest-bound chick is negatively correlated with the activity of its hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Increased corticosterone (cort) secretion has been shown to facilitate changes in behavior that allow hungry chicks to obtain more food from parents. However, if parents are not willing/able to buffer their young from temporary food shortages, increased cort secretion could be detrimental to undernourished chicks. In a system where parents are insensitive to chick demands, low benefits and high costs of activation of the HPA-axis in hungry chicks should lead to a disassociation of the nutritional state of the young and the activity of its HPA-axis. We tested this novel hypothesis for the tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata), a seabird with intermittent provisioning of a nest-bound semi-precocial chick. We examined the HPA-axis activity of captive chicks exposed to the following: (1) a short-term (24 h) food deprivation; and (2) an array of prolonged (3 weeks) restrictions in feeding regimens. We found that in response to a short-term food deprivation chicks decreased baseline levels of cort and thyroid hormones. In response to prolonged restrictions, food-limited chicks exhibited signs of nutritional deficit: they had lower body mass, endogenous lipid reserves, and thyroid hormone titers compared to chicks fed ad libitum. However, baseline and maximum acute stress-induced levels of cort were also lower in food-restricted chicks compared to those of chicks fed ad libitum. These results support a major prediction of the study hypothesis that puffin chicks suppress HPA-axis activity in response to short- and long-term nutritional deficits. This physiological adaptation may allow a chick to extend its development in the nest, while eluding detrimental effects of chronic cort elevation. ?? 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
The adrenocortical response of tufted puffin chicks to nutritional deficits