Physiological, morphological and behavioural effects of selecting zebra finches for divergent levels of corticosterone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The effects of environmental stress on the physiology and behaviour of higher vertebrates has become an important avenue of research in recent years. Evidence from recent studies has suggested that the avian stress-related hormone corticosterone (CORT) may play a role in immunocompetence and sexual selection. We tested whether CORT is immunosuppressive by studying humoral and cell-mediated immune responses in populations of captive zebra finches selected for divergent peak levels of CORT. We also investigated whether selection for peak CORT has an effect on the quality of several sexually selected regions of the male zebra finch; in addition we compared morphometric parameters and the dominance ranking in males from the different selection lines. We also tested whether different components of the immune system compete for limited resources. We found that selection for divergent levels of peak CORT had little effect on humoral immunity, male sexual signal quality or dominance ranking. However, contrary to expectations, we did find a positive relationship between CORT titre and cell-mediated immunity, as well as a greater cell-mediated response in the birds selected for high CORT titre than those selected for low CORT titre. Consistent with predictions, significant negative relationships were found between both testosterone and CORT titre on humoral immunity. Birds from the low CORT lines were significantly larger in terms of skeletal size than those from the high CORT lines. Overall, our results suggest that the cell-mediated immune response is associated with a reduction in the humoral response, but only in males, and that there is no simple relationship between peak CORT levels and immune function.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • immunity, dominance, stress, selection experiment, zebra finch, corticosterone, glucocorticoid, skeletal size, sexual signals, testosterone
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4368-4378
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch