Seasonal changes in adrenocortical responses to acute stress in Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) on the Tibetan Plateau: Comparison with house sparrow (P. domesticus) in North America and with the migratory P. domesticus in Qinghai Province.
Seasonal modulation of the adrenocortical response to stress appears to be ubiquitous in arctic-breeding and temperate-zone-breeding birds, but has not been well investigated in alpine-breeding species at mid-latitude. We examined the adrenocortical response to acute stress (capture, handling and restraint) in populations of Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) among seasons and migratory house sparrow (P. domesticus bactrianus) in pre-breeding on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau (the Tibetan Plateau). A population of house sparrow (Passer domesticus domesticus) was also sampled in lowland Phoenix, Arizona during breeding and wintering stages. In Eurasian tree sparrows, baseline corticosterone (CORT) does not differ among life history stages, but stress-induced CORT level (maximal CORT, total and corrected integrated CORT) is significantly higher in late breeding stage than those in early breeding and prebasic molt stages. In house sparrows, stress-induced CORT level does not differ between sites and life history stages, but baseline CORT is significantly lower in pre-breeding from Qinghai compared with those in breeding and wintering stages from Phoenix. Interestingly, both baseline CORT and maximal CORT do not differ between the populations of Eurasian tree sparrow and house sparrow in early/pre-breeding stage although tree sparrow is resident species whereas house sparrow is migratory in Qinghai. Our results suggest that the extreme environment of the Tibetan Plateau does not have significant effects on adrenocortical responses to acute stress in Eurasian tree sparrows and house sparrows, which may be a result of masking by human activities. These invasive human commensals may have a unique HPA axis response to different environments because they can take advantage of human food sources and shelter (i.e. buildings).