Date of Thesis

2011

Thesis Type

Masters Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Department

Biology

First Advisor

Don Dearborn

Abstract

Fluctuations of food availability, habitat quality, and environmental conditions throughout the year have been implicated in the breeding success and survival of migratory birds. Levels of circulating corticosterone, the hormone involved in energy balance and the stress response in birds, are also affected by fluctuations in these variables, and also play a role in self-maintenance and survival. In addition to changes in behaviors and resource allocation, the metabolic effects of corticosterone increase the amount of free radicals in the body, which can cause oxidative stress and damage lipids and DNA. In this thesis, I assessed if diet and physiology during the breeding and non-breeding seasons contributed to the reproductive success, survival, and oxidative stress of a long-lived migratory seabird, Leach’s storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). I tested the hypotheses that 1.) diet and physiology throughout the breeding and non-breeding seasons predict reproductive effort; and 2.) corticosterone affects telomere length, a measure of oxidative damage. Through analyses of stable isotopes, corticosterone, and antioxidant capacity, I found that although there was variation in these measures of diet and physiology within the population, none of these factors during the breeding or non-breeding seasons correlated with reproductive effort or success. I also found that feather and plasma corticosterone did not predict telomere length. The life history strategies of Leach’s storm-petrels appear to be complex, and many factors likely contribute to self-maintenance and the decision to breed. Long-term monitoring of these variables may help identify relationships between trends in oceanographic variables during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons with reproductive effort and success, and survival.

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