Forsøksdyr: Determinants of behaviour and stress responses in black-legged kittiwake chicks

Godkjenningsdato 04.05.2018

Individual animals vary in how they cope with changes in their environment, differing in their hormonal stress responses and behaviour when faced with challenging conditions. These individual differences in behaviour and stress response have been shown to have a genetic basis in wild animals. However, in animals where parents invest high levels of parental care, how parents behave and respond to environmental conditions whilst rearing offspring is also predicted to have significant effects on their developing young. Predicting how populations will cope with environmental change requires an understanding of how individuals vary in their ability to cope, and how these different strategies are acquired: are they inherited, or developed? Seabird species such as the black-legged kittiwake invest high levels of parental care in their offspring, with chicks fed by both parents, and during the first few weeks of life, never left alone at the nest. Differences in parent behaviour and stress form the basis of variation in the rearing environment chicks face during early life. Black-legged kittiwakes breeding in the Arctic experience a highly changeable environment when foraging to feed themselves and their offspring, making them highly suitable for this type of study. We propose to determine whether inheritance or rearing environment are more important in shaping the behaviour and stress responses of developing seabird chicks in the Arctic. We will use the black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) in this study, working with 100 nests (i.e., 200 adults and 100 chicks) in each year of study (2 years) in order to effectively measure differences in the behaviour and stress of chicks. Our work is based on behavioural observations, blood sampling and chick cross-fostering. We do expect any detrimental effect of our work on bird condition, reproduction or survival.

Compliance with the 3Rs:
Black legged kittiwake is the main focus of the project, and our study requires the use of animals from wild populations that can move and behave freely. Therefore, no other species or model can be used to answer our questions.
Our proposed sample sizes are the lowest numbers that will be enable us to make accurate comparisons between experimental treatments, accounting for the possibility of some nests failing before chicks can be studied.
Our plan is refined to be minimally invasive for the birds: we will use cameras to record feeding behaviour of parents, rather than more commonly used GPS devices to be carried by birds. For measuring stress responses in kittiwakes we have selected analytical methods that require the lowest quantities of blood, to minimise the impacts of sampling and the time taken to collect samples.