A test of maternal programming of offspring stress response to predation risk in threespine sticklebacks

Brett C. Mommer, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Non-genetic maternal effects are widespread across taxa and challenge our traditional understanding of inheritance. Maternal experience with predators, for example, can have lifelong consequences for offspring traits, including fitness. Previous work in threespine sticklebacks showed that females exposed to simulated predation risk produced eggs with higher cortisol content and offspring with altered anti-predator behavior. However, it is unknown whether this maternal effect is mediated via the offspring glucocorticoid stress response and if it is retained over the entire lifetime of offspring. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that maternal exposure to simulated predation risk has long-lasting effects on the cortisol response to simulated predation risk in stickleback offspring. We measured circulating concentrations of cortisol before (baseline), 15. min after, and 60. min after exposure to a simulated predation risk. We compared adult offspring of predator-exposed mothers and control mothers in two different social environments (alone or in a group). Relative to baseline, offspring plasma cortisol was highest 15. min after exposure to simulated predation risk and decreased after 60. min. Offspring of predator-exposed mothers differed in the cortisol response to simulated predation risk compared to offspring of control mothers. In general, females had higher cortisol than males, and fish in a group had lower cortisol than fish that were by themselves. The buffering effect of the social environment did not differ between maternal treatments or between males and females. Altogether the results show that while a mother's experience with simulated predation risk might affect the physiological response of her adult offspring to a predator, sex and social isolation have much larger effects on the stress response to predation risk in sticklebacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)222-227
Number of pages6
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Volume122
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2 2013

Keywords

  • Glucocorticoid
  • HPA axis
  • Maternal programming
  • Parental effect
  • Predators

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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