Regulation of plasma testosterone, corticosterone, and metabolites in response to stress, reproductive stage, and social challenges in a desert male songbird

Pierre Deviche, Benjamin Beouche-Helias, Scott Davies, Sisi Gao, Samuel Lane, Shelley Valle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


In many male vertebrates, the secretion of reproductive (gonadal androgens) and adrenocortical (glucocorticoids) hormones varies seasonally and in response to environmental stimuli, and these hormones exert numerous behavioral and metabolic effects. We performed two field studies on adult male Rufous-winged Sparrows, Peucaea carpalis, a Sonoran Desert rain-dependent sedentary species, to (a) determine seasonal changes in initial (baseline) and acute stress-induced plasma testosterone (T), corticosterone (CORT), and two metabolites (uric acid and glucose) and (b) compare the effects of two types of social challenge (song playback or simulated territorial intrusion consisting of song playback plus exposure to a live decoy bird) on plasma T, CORT, these metabolites, and territorial behavior. Initial plasma T was higher during the summer breeding period than during post-breeding molt. Acute stress resulting from capture and restraint for 30. min decreased plasma T in breeding condition birds but not in the fall, revealing that this decrease is seasonally regulated. Initial plasma CORT did not change seasonally, but plasma CORT increased in response to acute stress. This increase was likewise seasonally regulated, being relatively smaller during autumnal molt than in the summer. We found no evidence that acute stress levels of CORT are functionally related to stress-depressed plasma T and, therefore, that plasma T decreases during stress as a result of elevated plasma CORT. Thirty minutes of exposure to simulated territorial intrusion resulted in different behavior than 30. min of exposure to song playback, with increased time spent near the decoy and decreased number of overhead flights. Neither type of social challenge influenced plasma T, thus offering no support for the hypothesis that plasma T either responds to or mediates the behavioral effects of social challenge. Exposure to both social challenges elevated plasma CORT, but simulated territorial intrusion was more effective in this respect than song playback. Plasma uric acid and glucose decreased during acute stress, but only plasma uric acid decreased during social challenge. Thus, an elevation in plasma CORT was consistently associated with a decrease in plasma uric acid, but not with a change in glycemia. These results enhance our understanding of the short-term relationships between T, CORT, and avian territorial behavior. They provide novel information on the endocrine effects of acute stress, in particular on plasma T, in free-ranging birds, and are among the first in these birds to link these effects to metabolic changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-131
Number of pages12
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014


  • Challenge hypothesis
  • Glycemia
  • Reproduction
  • Simulated territorial intrusion
  • Song playback
  • Uric acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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