Corticosterone Promotes Scramble Competition Over Sibling Negotiation in Barn Owl Nestlings ( Tyto alba )

Ruppli, Charlène ; Almasi, Bettina ; Dreiss, Amélie ; Battesti, Marine ; Jenni, Lukas ; Roulin, Alexandre

In: Evolutionary Biology, 2012, vol. 39, no. 3, p. 348-358

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    In species with parental care, siblings compete for access to food resources. Typically, they vocally signal their level of need to each other and to parents, and jostle for the position in the nest where parents deliver food. Although food shortage and social interactions are stressful, little is known about the effect of stress on the way siblings resolve the conflict over how food is shared among them. Because glucocorticoid hormones mediate physiological and behavioral responses to stressors, we tested whether corticosterone, the main glucocorticoid in birds, modulates physical and vocal signaling used by barn owl siblings (Tyto alba) to compete for food. Although corticosterone-implanted (cort-) nestlings and placebo-nestlings were similarly successful to monopolize food, they employed different behavioral strategies. Compared to placebo-nestlings, cort-individuals reduced the rate of vocally communicating with their siblings (but not with their parents) but were positioned closer to the nest-box entrance where parents predictably deliver food. Therefore, corticosterone induced nestlings to increase their effort in physical competition for the best nest position at the expense of investment in sib-sib communication without modifying vocal begging signals directed to parents. This suggests that in the barn owl stress alters nestlings' behavior and corticosterone could mediate the trade-off between scramble competition and vocal sib-sib communication. We conclude that stressful environments may prevent the evolution of sib-sib communication as a way to resolve family conflicts peacefully