Parasites, mate attractiveness and female feather corticosterone levels in a socially monogamous bird

Francois Mougeot*, Adam Z. Lendvai, Jesus Martinez-Padilla, Lorenzo Perez-Rodriguez, Mathieu Giraudeau, Fabian Casas, Ignacio T. Moore, Steve M Redpath

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Stress is ubiquitous in the life of animals and a key determinant of their well-being and fitness. By quantifying levels of feather corticosterone in growing feathers (CORTf), we measured integrated stress responses in a monogamous game bird, the red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus. We investigated the effects of parasites and social mate choice on female CORTf levels during pairing, and tested the hypothesis that females with more parasites and paired with less attractive males have higher CORTf. We experimentally reduced nematode parasite abundance during pairing in females and investigated the effect of treatment on CORTf, while also considering the social mate's phenotype (male comb size, as a proxy of sexual attractiveness). The treatment was effective at contrasting parasite loads between control and dosed females, but had no apparent effect on CORTf. In experimental females, reinfection rate after a month positively correlated with CORTf. We found no evidence of assortative mating based on size, condition or ornament size, but females paired with more attractive males (displaying bigger combs) had lower CORTf during pairing. Females for which parasite load was reduced had lower CORTf than control females at all levels of male attractiveness. Social mate choice therefore appears to be an important determinant of female integrated stress responses, which may in turn modulate reinfection rate and parasitism risk. An influence of male attractiveness on female stress may be part of an adaptive response allowing females to adjust reproductive investment to their achieved social mate choice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-283
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
Early online date17 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

Bibliographical note


This work was funded by NERC (NE/D014352/1) and by NSF (IOS-1145625). FM was supported by a distinguish visitor award from the University of Cape Town (2015). LP-R was supported by a postdoctoral contract from MINECO (Severo Ochoa Programme; (SEV-2012-0262). FC and JM-P were supported by a JAE-Doc contract funded by CSIC and ESF. ÁZL was supported by an Eötvös Grant from the Hungarian Scholarship Board and an OTKA grant (K113108).


  • feather corticosterone
  • red grouse
  • lagopus lagopus scoticus
  • nematode
  • trichostrongylus tenuis
  • mate choice
  • sexual ornament
  • lagopus-lagopus-scoticus
  • male red grouse
  • physiological stress
  • sexual selection
  • trade-offs
  • long-term
  • testosterone
  • quality
  • ecology
  • signals


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