Behavioral phenotype predicts physiological responses to chronic stress in proactive and reactive birds
Abstract Animal species display significant variation in personality traits among individuals, and two main coping styles have been identified and termed “proactive” and “reactive”. Further, these coping styles appear to correlate directly with the strength of the physiological stress response exhibited by those individuals. In our study system, white laying hens are reactive, flighty, and exhibit large hormonal and behavioral responses to acute stress, while brown laying hens are proactive, exploratory, and exhibit low hormonal and behavioral responses to acute stress. The objective of the current study was to determine if personality type also corresponds to differences in multiple measures of stress when birds are subjected to a chronic stressor. We tested the responses of hens to chronic stress applied by providing feed according to an unpredictable schedule for 14 days, and measured corticosterone concentrations in circulation, expression of heat shock proteins (HSPs), molecules known to protect cells in response to stress, and the ratios of heterophils:lymphocytes in blood, two immune cells known to change in quantity in circulation during chronic stress. We predicted that white hens would show greater physiological responses to the chronic stress treatment. Plasma corticosterone levels significantly increased after 7 days of treatment and returned to baseline levels on day 14, but did not differ significantly between strains. H:L ratios, on the other hand, were significantly elevated by day 7 of treatment, and increased significantly more in brown hens than white. HSP70 and HSP90 expression levels were significantly higher after stress began in white hens than brown. Our results showed that brown hens were more reactive in one response (H:L ratios) while white hens were more reactive in another (HSP expression). These different reactions to the same stressor may represent different strategies for dealing with the same stressor. Highlights Reactive white hens produce larger stress responses than proactive brown hens. We show that white and brown hens also respond differently to chronic stress. Proactive brown hens show long-term changes in heterophil:lymphocyte ratios. Reactive white hens instead increase expression of heat shock proteins. Behavioral phenotypes predict strategically different responses to chronic stress. Graphical abstract [DISPLAY OMISSION]
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