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Long-term measures of climate unpredictability shape the avian endocrine stress axis

Cite this dataset

Guindre-Parker, Sarah; Rubenstein, Dustin R. (2021). Long-term measures of climate unpredictability shape the avian endocrine stress axis [Dataset]. Dryad.


The vertebrate glucocorticoid stress response is an important mechanism facilitating pleiotropic phenotypic adjustments for coping with environmental change and optimizing fitness. Although circulating glucocorticoid hormones are mediators of plasticity that individuals can adjust rapidly in response to environmental challenges, they are also shaped by ecological selection. It remains unclear, however, how environmental variation on different timescales influences glucocorticoids. Here, we use an intraspecific comparative approach to determine how variation in precipitation on different timescales (months, years, decades) shapes distinct components of the glucocorticoid response. We sampled superb starlings (Lamprotornis superbus) at eight sites across Kenya in multiple years that differed in precipitation. Among-population variation in baseline glucocorticoids was shaped by both short- and long-term precipitation, whereas variation in stress-induced levels was poorly explained by precipitation on any timescale. Adrenal sensitivity, quantified via adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) injections, was shaped by long-term precipitation and highest in unpredictable environments. Together, these results suggest that variation in glucocorticoids can be best explained by environmental variation at timescales that extend beyond the lives of individuals, though baseline glucocorticoids also reflect short-term environmental conditions. Patterns of long-term precipitation may represent a microevolutionary selective pressure shaping the endocrine stress axis across populations and influencing how individuals cope with environmental change.