Behavioural stress response and melanin-based plumage colouration in barn swallow nestlings

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Consistent and correlated inter-individual differences in behaviours, the so-called ‘personalities’, have been identified in many vertebrates. The ability to respond to stressful events is part of personalities and can have important fitness consequences, as it determines how individuals cope with environmental challenges. As a consequence of pleiotropic effects of genes involved in several functions, inter-individual differences in behavioural responses can be associated with phenotypic traits, like melanin-based plumage colouration in birds. We examined the association between three proxies of the behavioural stress response and breast plumage colouration in barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) nestlings. We found that nestling behavioural responses were consistent within individuals and similar among siblings, thus suggesting that these behaviours may contribute to define individual ‘personalities’. However, nestling behavioural stress response was not significantly predicted by variation in breast plumage colouration, indicating that in juveniles of this species melanin-based colouration does not convey to conspecifics reliable information on individual ability to cope with stressful events.



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  • Scatterplots of individual-level (below diagonal) and brood-level (mean value within-brood,above diagonal) correlations of the three behaviors used as proxies of the behavioral stress response: tonic immobility (0, no response within 45 s; 1, response within 45 s), breath rate and agitation (number of leg movements). Pearson’s r values are reported within each scatterplot.

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  • Variation in nestling tonic immobility (0, no response within 45 s; 1, response within 45 s), breath rate and agitation (number of leg movements) according to θ. θ values are centered within brood; positive θDEV values indicate nestlings that have larger θ compared to the brood mean.

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  • Histogram showing the distribution of nestling time of reaction during tonic immobility test (N=188).

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