Family-transmitted stress in a wild bird

Noguera, J.C., Kim, S.Y. & Velando, A., 2017. Family-transmitted stress in a wild bird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, p.201706164. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): 201706164.


Recent data suggest that, in animals living in social groups, stress-induced changes in behavior have the potential to act as a source of information, so that stressed individuals could themselves act as stressful stimuli for other individuals with whom they interact repeatedly. Such form of cross-over of stress may be beneficial if it enhances adaptive responses to ecological stressors in the shared environment. However, whether stress can be transferred among individuals during early life in natural populations remains unknown. Here we tested the effect of living with stressed siblings in a gull species where, as in many vertebrates, family represents the basic social unit during development. By experimentally modifying the level of stress hormones (corticosterone) in brood mates, we demonstrate that the social transfer of stress level triggers similar stress responses (corticosterone secretion) in brood bystanders. Corticosterone-implanted chicks and their siblings were faster in responding to a potential predator attack than control chicks. In gulls, fast and coordinated reactions to predators may increase the chances of survival of the whole brood, suggesting a beneficial fitness value of cross-over of stress. However, our data also indicate that living with stressed brood mates early in life entails some long-term costs. Near independence, fledglings that grew up with stressed siblings showed reduced body size, high levels of oxidative damage in lipids and proteins, and a fragile juvenile plumage. Overall, our results indicate that stress cross-over occurs in animal populations and may have important fitness consequences.

Plumage colour and the expression of stress-related genes in gull chicks

Diaz-Real, J., Kim, S.Y. & Velando, A., 2017. Plumage colour and the expression of stress‐related genes in gull chicks. Journal of Avian Biology. DOI: 10.1111/jav.01460


In many bird populations, individuals show remarkable differences in feather colouration, which are often linked to individual differences in physiological traits, but the mechanisms maintaining this covariation are still unclear. Here, we investigate the variability of the melanic colouration in yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) chicks. In this species, hatchlings show high variability in the number and colour intensity of black spots in their plumage. In gulls, last-laid eggs receive less antioxidants but higher levels of androgens than first eggs. We first explored whether these remarkable differences within the clutch affect the feather melanisation during embryo development. Melanic colouration was not related to laying order, but nestling males were darker and had a larger spotted area than nestling females. In chicks hatching from first-laid eggs, the spot size and spot lightness were negatively correlated. We also explored the effect of the developmental environment, through a cross-fostering experiment, on the expression of five stress-related genes (SOD2, ALKBH3, HSPA8, NLRC5 and TRIAP1) and their link with melanic colouration. Post-hatching hierarchy did not affect the expression of any of the tested genes, but paler chicks showed reduced expression in some studied genes (SOD2, ALKBH3 and HSPA8) in comparison to darker chicks. Our results suggest that melanic chicks suffer less stress during development.