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Echoes from a stressful past. Effects, pathways and adaptive value of maternal stress in birds

19 October 2012

PhD ceremony: Ms. R. Henriksen, 11.00 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Dissertation: Echoes from a stressful past. Effects, pathways and adaptive value of maternal stress in birds

Promotor(s): prof. A.G.G. Groothuis

Faculty: Mathematics and Natural Sciences

The aim of the thesis was to explore the extent to which female stress, measured as elevated plasma corticosterone (the main glucocorticoids in birds), during egg formation in birds can influence the physiology and behaviour of the offspring that hatch from these eggs.

It was earlier believed that what determines an animal behaviour, physiology and general appearance is the genes they inherit from their parents. In recent years it has become more and more clear to researchers that an animal is not just the product of their genes but that their physiological responses and behavior depend on a complex interaction between the genes of that animal and the environment that surrounds them. Research on humans and rodents have shown that if mothers are stressed during pregnancy it alters the behavior and physiology of their offspring and thereby demonstrates that effects of the environment can be passed on from one generation to the next.

Rie Henriksen confirms again that the extent to which the offspring’s phenotype is affected is comparable to what has been found in mammals, and birds are therefore strong candidates as alternative model species within the field of maternal stress. She also shows for the first time in birds that maternal heat stress can affect several traits in the offspring. Interestingly, the expression and direction of these effects are dependent on whether the offspring themselves are raised in a heat stressed environment.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.42 p.m.
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