Stress responsiveness, age and body condition interactively affect flight initiation distance in breeding female eiders
Predation may drive differential selection among personality types, but the mechanism linking personality with predation risk is poorly understood. One such mechanism may be provided by stress hormones (corticosterone in birds), which are linked to boldness towards predators. However, because of feedbacks between boldness and future fitness expectations, the relationship between boldness and stress physiology may be modulated by individual quality. We investigated flight initiation distances (FIDs) of incubating eider, Somateria mollissima, females in relation to handling-induced corticosterone concentrations and individual quality (female breeding experience, body condition). We investigated whether FIDs were repeatable, and whether stress responsiveness and individual quality attributes, either independently or interactively, affected FIDs. We also analysed whether incubation duration, a period of peak predation pressure on females, would depend on female boldness towards predators (FID), controlling for individual quality. FIDs were repeatable within and between seasons, and females with higher handling-induced corticosterone concentrations generally had longer FIDs. However, this relationship was modulated by interactions between stress responsiveness and individual quality. High stress responsiveness was associated with longer FIDs in younger females, while the opposite was found for the oldest females. Furthermore, the FIDs of females in good body condition increased less strongly with increasing stress-induced circulating corticosterone. Shy females (long FIDs) and those in poor body condition had shorter incubation periods. Boldness is thus linked to stress responsiveness, helping to explain why stress responses may be correlated with survival. However, physiological stress effects on boldness cannot be understood in isolation from effects of individual quality. âº We study how individual age, condition and stress responsiveness affect boldness. âº Flight initiation distance is a repeatable personality trait in female eiders. âº Age and body condition modify the link between boldness and stress responsiveness. âº Boldness and body condition affect incubation length, a fitness-related trait. âº Effects of individual quality and stress on personality should be studied together.