Chronological age, biological age, and individual variation in the stress response in the European starling: A follow-up study

Annie Gott, Clare Andrews, Maria Larriva Hormigos, Karen Spencer, Melissa Bateson, Daniel Nettle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The strength of the avian stress response declines with age. A recently published study of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) found that a marker of biological age predicted the strength of the stress response even in individuals of the same chronological age. Specifically, birds that had experienced greater developmental telomere attrition (DTA) showed a lower peak corticosterone (CORT) response to an acute stressor, and more rapid recovery of CORT levels towards baseline. Here, we performed a follow-up study using the same capture-handling-restraint stressor in a separate cohort of starlings that had been subjected to a developmental manipulation of food availability and begging effort. We measured the CORT response at two different age points (4 and 18 months). Our data suggest a decline in the strength of the CORT response with chronological age: peak CORT was lower at the second age point, and there was relatively more reduction in CORT between 15 and 30 min. Individual consistency between the two age points was low, but there were modest familial effects on baseline and peak CORT. The manipulation of begging effort affected the stress response (specifically, the reduction in CORT between 15 and 30 min) in an age-dependent manner. However, we did not replicate the associations with DTA observed in the earlier study. We meta-analysed the data from the present and the earlier study combined, and found some support for the conclusions of the earlier paper.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5842
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

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