Sex-specific patterns in baseline corticosterone and body condition changes in breeding Red-footed Boobies Sula sula
Plasma levels of corticosterone often mirror changes in body condition and parental effort. In seabirds, the brooding of young chicks is often paralleled by a marked decline in adult body condition. This may reflect the trade-off between the needs of the chick to be fed regularly and brooded, and that of the adult to spend enough time at sea to restore its body reserves and find food for the chick. In this paper, we describe changes in body condition and baseline corticosterone levels in a tropical seabird, the Red-footed Booby Sula sula, in which the chick is continuously brooded for 5–6 weeks. Body condition did not decline during the brooding period. Female body condition remained stable throughout breeding whereas male body condition declined significantly during the late chick-rearing period. Baseline corticosterone levels were low during the prelaying phase, increased significantly during incubation and were highest during the brooding period. Later in the chick-rearing period, baseline corticosterone levels decreased markedly in females, but stayed elevated in males. There was no correlation between baseline corticosterone and body condition. Because of the chick's slow growth and reduced daily need for food, brooding in Red-footed Boobies may not require a marked increase in parental effort, and the rise in corticosterone levels is probably more a reflection of slight changes in foraging activity. Red-footed Booby males are 15% smaller than females and we suggest that the decline in male body condition during the late chick-rearing period is likely to result from higher energetic flight costs or a lower foraging efficiency imposed by a smaller body size.
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