Publication Details

Maute, K. L., French, K., Legge, S. & Astheimer, L. (2013). Seasonal stress physiology and body condition differ among co-occurring tropical finch species. Journal of Comparative Physiology B: biochemical, systemic, and environmental physiology, 183 (8), 1023-1037.


Seasonal changes in avian hormonal stress responses and condition are well known for common species found at temperate and arctic latitudes, but declining and tropical species are poorly studied. This study compares stress and condition measures of co-occurring declining and non-declining tropical grass finch species in Australia. We monitored declining Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae) and non-declining long-tailed and masked finches (Poepila acuticauda and P. personata) during two seasons that are potentially stressful: peak breeding (early dry season when food is plentiful) and moult (late dry to early wet season when food may be scarce). We measured body condition (muscle and fat), haematocrit, and stress response to capture using plasma corticosterone and binding globulin concentrations. All species had higher muscle and lower fat indices during breeding than moult. Haematocrit did not consistently differ between seasons. Long-tailed finches had higher stress responses during breeding than moult, similar to other passerines studied. Masked finches showed no seasonal changes in stress response. Gouldian finches had stress response patterns opposite to those of long-tailed finches, with higher stress responses during moult. However, seasonal trends in Gouldian and long-tailed finch stress responses sometimes differed between years or sites. The differences in stress response patterns between species suggest that the declining Gouldian finch is more sensitive to recent environmental changes which are thought to further reduce grass seed food resources during the late dry to early wet season. Retention of stress responsiveness during a protracted moult could increase the survival potential of Gouldian finches. This study highlights the utility of stress and condition indices to determine the sensitivity of co-occurring species to environmental conditions.

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