The development of behavioral and endocrine coping styles in nestlings from urban and rural sites

Sarah Guindre-Parker, Kennesaw State University
Denyelle A.V. Kilgour, Kennesaw State University
Courtney R. Linkous, Kennesaw State University


Urbanization is increasing globally and altering the stressors that animals face in their everyday lives. Organisms often differ in their coping styles—both behavioral and endocrine—across urban to rural habitats. For example, urban animals are often bolder, more exploratory, and mount stronger glucocorticoid stress responses compared to their rural counterparts. While these coping styles are important in shaping fitness across the urban-to-rural gradient, it remains unclear when these differences arise in the life of organisms. We explore the development of coping styles in European starling nestlings (Sturnus vulgaris), an urban-adapted species. We test whether breathing rate, handling struggle rate, and bag struggle rate differ across sites and find no difference in the behavioral coping styles of nestlings raised in urban versus rural sites. We also explore differences in baseline and stress-induced glucocorticoids, finding that urban nestlings develop a stronger stress response than rural birds before fledging the nest. We find no significant correlations between behavioral and endocrine traits for urban or rural birds, which supports the two-tiered model of coping styles. One possibility is that behavioral and endocrine differences develop at different times over the lives of organisms. Our findings support prior work suggesting that behavioral and endocrine coping mechanisms act independently of one another, and suggests that endocrine coping mechanisms develop in early life and before differences in behavioral coping styles might arise. Future work on the mechanisms leading to early-life differences in coping styles—from genetics to maternal effects to environmental effects—is needed to best predict how urban-adapted organisms cope with environmental change. Studies across a greater number of sites will help disentangle site from urbanization effects.