Testosterone levels in feces predict risk-sensitive foraging in hummingbirds

C. A. Chávez-Zichinelli, L. Gómez, R. Ortiz-Pulido, C. Lara, R. Valdéz, M. C. Romano

Published online: 
25 April 2014

Risk taking decisions related to the unpredictability of resource availability (risk-sensitive foraging theory) have typically been explained by behavioral ecology and psychology approaches. However, little attention has been given to the physiological condition of animals as a factor that can influence the direction of foraging preferences. We evaluated the role of steroid hormones testosterone (T) and corticosterone (CORT) on the foraging preferences expressed by white-eared hummingbirds Hylocharis leucotis in a risk-sensitivity experiment. We recorded choices made by male individuals to floral arrays with constant and variable rewards (sugar concentration), and associated these with steroid hormone levels quantified at the start of the experiments. We found that males with higher T levels behave as risk-prone foragers as they perform more visits to flower arrays with variable rewards. Interestingly, CORT levels were similar regardless whether individuals visited both types of array. According to our results, T seems to influence the foraging preferences of male hummingbirds. Individuals with higher levels of this hormone, made more rapid, frequent visits to flowers with variable rewards, and behave consistently as risk-prone foragers, compared to males with low T levels. These are exciting avenues for future work, particularly considering recent evidence that individuals may exhibit behavioral differences, denoting an apparent personality, which may be associated with phisiological condition influencing how they respond behaviorally to environmental variation.