• MacDougall-Shackleton, Scott A.
  • Dindia, L.
  • Newman, Amy E. M.
  • Potvin, Dominique A.
  • Stewart, Kathryn A.
  • MacDougall-Shackleton, Elizabeth A.


The stress response—increases in circulating glucocorticoids following a stressor—is typically considered adaptive, but few studies address the fitness consequences of individual variation in stress response. Generally, due to negative consequences of prolonged elevation of glucocorticoids, animals should have a transient stress response just sufficient to cope with the stressor. In rodents, stress responsiveness is affected by early developmental experience, and hyper-responsiveness to stress is linked to morbidity and mortality. We assessed individual variation in stress responses in free-living song sparrows, Melospiza melodia, in relation to fitness-related measures including song and overwinter survival. Birds with greater increases in corticosterone 30 min following restraint stress were less likely to return to breed the following year. Stress responsiveness was also correlated with song complexity: males with fewer syllables in their song repertoires had greater stress reactivity. Our findings support the hypothesis that developmental stressors both impair song development and affect the adult stress response. Thus, individual variation in the stress response may relate to variation in fitness.