Differences in acute stress responses between wild-caught and captive-bred birds: a physiological mechanism contributing to current avian invasions?

Research paper by Sonia Cabezas, Martina Carrete, José L. Tella, Tracy A. Marchant, Gary R. Bortolotti

Indexed on: 08 Aug '12Published on: 08 Aug '12Published in: Biological Invasions


Current avian invasions are often the result of exotic birds accidentally escaping from cages. It has been hypothesised that the higher invasiveness of wild-caught cage-birds compared to captive-bred ones could be related to the loss of ability in captive-bred birds to cope with new environments. The acute stress response plays an important role in how animals cope with challenges because elevated corticosterone (CORT) levels can mediate learning and memory consolidation and help to increase their survival prospects. We experimentally tested whether exotic wild-caught and captive-bred cage-birds differ in their responses to acute stress using a representative sample of parrots. Wild-caught individuals showed longer CORT responses to acute stress than captive-bred ones, both at inter- and intra-specific levels when comparing wild-birds to the first generation born in captivity. Captive-bred birds may have attenuated their CORT responses due to acclimation, while high mortality rates during the international trade of wild-caught birds could have selected those individuals that are better able to cope with stress. We suggest that the longer acute response found in wild-caught parrots could help them to escape from cages and survive when facing challenges in new wild environments, possibly contributing to their higher invasiveness.