Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Ecology, 86(4), 2005, pp. 1034–1046


Copyright 2005 by the Ecological Society of America. Used by permission.


The hormone corticosterone is an important part of animals’ response to environmental stress, modulating short-term adaptive changes in behavior and physiology. The hormone testosterone is also critical, especially for males, in regulating the expression of sexual behavior and parental care. These hormones can have costly consequences, however, and within populations individuals show variation in endogenous levels of both corticosterone and testosterone. We studied how annual survival varied as a function of natural levels of these hormones in colonially breeding Cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in southwestern Nebraska, USA, in 2000–2003. We sampled hormone levels of birds caught at colonies and using mark–recapture, monitored their survival through subsequent years in the study area. Maximum-likelihood estimation and model fitting (with program MARK) revealed that birds sampled for corticosterone in colonies of all sizes late in the season had curvilinear survival; individuals with very low and very high levels of corticosterone had lower survival than those with intermediate levels. Annual survival of birds sampled earlier in the season, however, generally declined with increasing corticosterone level. More birds than expected, given the survival functions, had the very low corticosterone levels in nonfumigated colonies later in the year, suggesting perhaps a compensatory benefit unrelated to survival for very low corticosterone levels. In a more limited analysis, testosterone appeared to have little effect on annual survival, although some evidence suggested that females with endogenous testosterone levels below the mean for a given date might have survived better.