Corticosterone levels of tufted puffins vary with breeding stage, body condition index, and reproductive performance

Cory T. Williams, Alexander S. Kitaysky, Arthur B. Kettle, C. Loren Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Corticosterone (CORT) levels in free-living animals are seasonally modulated and vary with environmental conditions. Although most studies measure total CORT concentrations, levels of corticosteroid binding globulin (CBG) may also be modulated, thus altering the concentration of CORT available for diffusion into tissues (free CORT). We investigated the seasonal dynamics of CBG, total CORT, and free CORT in breeding tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) during 2 years characterized by high rates of nestling growth and survival. We then compared concentrations of total CORT in this population to levels in chick-rearing puffins at another colony during 2 years with low productivity. At the high productivity colony, levels of CBG, total baseline CORT, free baseline CORT, and total maximum CORT were all higher prior to egg-laying than during late incubation and late chick-rearing. Levels of CBG were positively correlated with body condition index (BCI) and free baseline CORT was negatively correlated with BCI. Total baseline levels of CORT during chick-rearing were two to four times higher at the colony with low rates of nestling growth and survival. Our results demonstrate the need for long-term datasets to disentangle seasonal trends in CORT levels from trends driven by changes in environmental conditions. Given the negative effects associated with chronic elevation of CORT, our results indicate the cost of reproduction may be higher during years characterized by low productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-35
Number of pages7
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Corticosteroid binding globulin
  • Cost of reproduction
  • Fratercula cirrhata
  • Free corticosterone
  • Seabird
  • Stage of reproduction
  • Tufted puffin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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