Unpredictability of maternal environment shapes offspring behaviour without affecting stress-induced cortisol in an annual vertebrate

Magierecka, A., Cooper, B., Sloman, K. A. and Metcalfe, N. B. (2023) Unpredictability of maternal environment shapes offspring behaviour without affecting stress-induced cortisol in an annual vertebrate. Hormones and Behavior, 154, 105396. (doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2023.105396)

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Exposure of females to stressful conditions during pregnancy or oogenesis has a profound effect on the phenotype of their offspring. For example, offspring behavioural phenotype may show altered patterns in terms of the consistency of behavioural patterns and their average level of performance. Maternal stress can also affect the development of the stress axis in offspring leading to alterations in their physiological stress response. However, the majority of evidence comes from studies utilising acute stressors or exogenous glucocorticoids, and little is known about the effect of chronic maternal stress, particularly in the context of stress lasting throughout entire reproductive lifespan. To bridge this knowledge gap, we exposed female sticklebacks to stressful and unpredictable environmental conditions throughout the breeding season. We quantified the activity, sheltering and anxiety-like behaviour of offspring from three successive clutches of these females, and calculated Intra-class Correlation Coefficients for these behaviours in siblings and half-siblings. We also exposed offspring to an acute stressor and measured their peak cortisol levels. An unpredictable maternal environment had no modifying effect on inter-clutch acute stress responsivity, but resulted in diversification of offspring behaviour, indicated by an increased between-individual variability within families. This may represent a bet-hedging strategy, whereby females produce offspring differing in behavioural phenotype, to increase the chance that some of these offspring will be better at coping with the anticipated conditions.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was supported by a Fisheries Society of the British Isles Ph.D. studentship awarded to A.M. and an ERC Advanced Grant 834653 to N.B.M.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Magierecka, Ms Agnieszka and Metcalfe, Professor Neil
Authors: Magierecka, A., Cooper, B., Sloman, K. A., and Metcalfe, N. B.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Hormones and Behavior
ISSN (Online):1095-6867
Published Online:01 July 2023
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2023 The Authors
First Published:First published in Hormones and Behavior 154: 105396
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
305090MITOWILDNeil MetcalfeEuropean Commission (EC)834653Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine