Date of Award

12-2012

Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences

Department

Biological Sciences

Advisor

Christy R. Strand, PhD

Abstract

Song production in songbirds is controlled by parts of the brain known as the song control regions (SCRs). During spring, gonads increase in size, males sing to attract mates, and SCRs become larger. This neuroplasticity is controlled by the change in day length and increased plasma testosterone (T) levels. Plasma T can be reduced by stress through the production of corticosterone (CORT), through the production of beta-endorphin, or through direct effects on the testes via the nervous system. We determined the T, estradiol, and CORT hormonal profiles of wild House Finches by capturing and sampling blood from the finches every season for two years. To track SCR neuroplasticity in the wild, we also measured the volume of two specific SCRs, the HVC and RA, every season. We then examined the effects of stress on the finch endocrine system in the wild by performing a 30-minute restraint stress protocol once every season and took blood samples before and after the restraint. To determine whether stress and/or CORT affect neuroplasticity in SCRs, we captured male house finches during winter and brought them into captivity. They were allowed to acclimate to captivity for one month on short days (8L:16D) before we transferred them to long days (16L:8D) and restraint stressed half the birds. We measured their gonads, plasma T and CORT levels, volumes of the HVC and RA, and the number of new neurons in the HVC. HVC volumes were smaller in stressed than non-stressed birds, while RA volumes did not differ. There was no difference in number of new neurons or estimated total number of neurons in the HVC between control and restrained birds. Because the HVC is involved in song production, it is possible that stress negatively impacts singing behavior and reproductive success in House Finches. Future work should address how natural stressors may affect neuroplasticity in birds.

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