Post-hatching parental care behaviour and hormonal status in a precocial bird

Institut pluridisciplinaire Hubert-Curien, département écologie, physiologie et éthologie, UMR 7178 CNRS-ULP, 23, rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg cedex 2, France.
Behavioural Processes (Impact Factor: 1.57). 12/2007; 76(3):206-14. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2007.05.003
Source: PubMed


In birds, the link between parental care behaviour and prolactin release during incubation persists after hatching in altricial birds, but has never been precisely studied during the whole rearing period in precocial species, such as ducks. The present study aims to understand how changes in parental care after hatching are related to circulating prolactin levels in mallard hens rearing ducklings. Blood was sampled in hens over at least 13 post-hatching weeks and the behaviour of the hens and the ducklings was recorded daily until fledging. Contacts between hens and the ducklings, leadership of the ducklings and gathering of them steadily decreased over post-hatching time. Conversely, resting, preening and agonistic behaviour of hens towards ducklings increased. Plasma prolactin concentrations remained at high levels after hatching and then fell after week 6 when body mass and structural size of the young were close to those of the hen. Parental care behaviour declined linearly with brood age, showed a disruption of the hen-brood bond at week 6 post-hatching and was related to prolactin concentration according to a sigmoid function. Our results suggest that a definite threshold in circulating prolactin is necessary to promote and/or to maintain post-hatching parental care in ducks.

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    • "Finally, there is growing evidence that the relationship between parental care and circulating prolactin levels is complex and non-linear. Indeed, changes in parental behavior seem to occur only when prolactin levels reach a lower threshold (Boos et al., 2007; Angelier and Chastel, 2009; Spée et al., 2010). Above this threshold that may be determined by receptor densities and locations, elevated prolactin levels may only have a permissive effect on parental behavior and variations in the expression of parental behavior could be mediated by other endocrine mechanisms. "
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    ABSTRACT: In vertebrates, adjustments of physiology and behavior to environmental changes are often mediated by physiology, and more specifically by hormonal mechanisms. As a consequence, these mechanisms are thought to orchestrate life-history decisions in wild vertebrates. For instance, investigating the hormonal regulation of parental behavior is relevant to evaluate how parents modulate their effort according to specific environmental conditions. Surprisingly and despite being classically known as the 'parental hormone', prolactin has been overlooked in birds relative to this context. Our aim is to review evidence that changes in prolactin levels can mediate, at least to some extent, the response of breeding birds to environmental conditions. To do so, we first examine current evidence and limits for the role of prolactin in mediating parental behavior in birds. Second, we emphasize the influence of environmental conditions and stressors on circulating prolactin levels. In addition, we review to what extent prolactin levels are a reliable predictor of breeding success in wild birds. By linking environmental conditions, prolactin regulation, parental behavior, and breeding success, we highlight the potential role of this hormone in mediating parental decisions in birds. Finally, we also review the potential role of prolactin in mediating other life history decisions such as clutch size, re-nesting, and the timing of molt. By evaluating the influence of stressors on circulating prolactin levels during these other life-history decisions, we also raise new hypotheses regarding the potential of the prolactin stress response to regulate the orchestration of the annual cycle when environmental changes occur. To sum up, we show in this review that prolactin regulation has a strong potential to allow ecological physiologists to better understand how individuals adjust their life-history decisions (clutch size, parental behavior, re-nesting, and onset of molt) according to the environmental conditions they encounter and we encourage further research on that topic. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Inc.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015 · Hormones and Behavior
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    • "reproduction and parental investment (Parker et al. 2002; Johnstone and Hinde 2006; Boos et al. 2007; Hinde et al. 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: In order to maximize their fitness, animals have to deal with different environmental and social factors that affect their everyday life. Although the way an animal behaves might enhance its fitness or survival in regard to one factor, it could compromise them regarding another. In the domain of decision sciences, research concerning decision making focuses on performances at the individual level but also at the collective one. However, between individual and collective decision making, different terms are used resulting in little or no connection between both research areas. In this paper, we reviewed how different branches of decision sciences study the same concept, mainly called speed-accuracy trade-off, and how the different results are on the same track in terms of showing the optimality of decisions. Whatever the level, individual or collective, each decision might be defined with three parameters: time or delay to decide, risk and accuracy. We strongly believe that more progress would be possible in this domain of research if these different branches were better linked, with an exchange of their results and theories. A growing amount of literature describes economics in humans and eco-ethology in birds making compromises between starvation, predation and reproduction. Numerous studies have been carried out on social cognition in primates but also birds and carnivores, and other publications describe market or reciprocal exchanges of commodities. We therefore hope that this paper will lead these different areas to a common decision science.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2013 · Animal Cognition
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    • "The concentration of this hormone increases with age until senescence in a long-live bird, the black-browed albatross [5]. Recently, plasma prolactin concentrations of a precocial bird were reported to be correlated with post-hatching maternal care and to increase following a sigmoid function [43], suggesting that maternal care is stimulated only when plasma prolactin reaches a threshold. If our young females had lower baseline prolactin concentrations, this could explain why it was harder to induce maternal behaviour in this set during the pre-induction phase. "
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    ABSTRACT: Variations of breeding success with age have been studied largely in iteroparous species and particularly in birds: survival of offspring increases with parental age until senescence. Nevertheless, these results are from observations of free-living individuals and therefore, it remains impossible to determine whether these variations result from parental investment or efficiency or both, and whether these variations occur during the prenatal or the postnatal stage or during both. Our study aimed first, to determine whether age had an impact on the expression of maternal breeding care by comparing inexperienced female birds of two different ages, and second, to define how these potential differences impact chicks' growth and behavioural development. We made 22 2-month-old and 22 8-month-old female Japanese quail foster 1-day-old chicks. We observed their maternal behaviour until the chicks were 11 days old and then tested these chicks after separation from their mothers. Several behavioural tests estimated their fearfulness and their sociality. We observed first that a longer induction was required for young females to express maternal behaviour. Subsequently as many young females as elder females expressed maternal behaviour, but young females warmed chicks less, expressed less covering postures and rejected their chicks more. Chicks brooded by elder females presented higher growth rates and more fearfulness and sociality. Our results reveal that maternal investment increased with age independently of maternal experience, suggesting modification of hormone levels implied in maternal behaviour. Isolated effects of maternal experience should now be assessed in females of the same age. In addition, our results show, for first time in birds, that variations in maternal care directly induce important differences in the behavioural development of chicks. Finally, our results confirm that Japanese quail remains a great laboratory model of avian maternal behaviour and that the way we sample maternal behaviour is highly productive.
    Full-text · Article · May 2012 · PLoS ONE
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