Brief summary of the paper: The arid and semi-arid zones of Australia are characterized by highly variable and unpredictable environmental conditions which affect resources for flora and fauna. Environments which are highly unpredictable in terms of both resource access and distribution are likely to select for a variety of adaptive behavioral strategies, intrinsically linked to the physiological control of behavior. How unpredictable resource distribution has affected the coevolution of behavioral strategies and physiology has rarely been quantified, particularly not in Australian birds.
We used a captive population of wild-derived zebra finches to test the relationships between behavioral strategies relating to food access and physiological responses to stress and body condition. We found that individuals that were in poorer body condition and had higher peak corticosterone levels entered baited feeders earlier in the trapping sequence of birds within the colony.
We also found that individuals in poorer body condition fed in smaller social groups. Our data show that the foraging decisions which individuals make represent not only a trade-off between food access and risk of exposure, but their underlying physiological response to stress.
Our data also suggest fundamental links between social networks and physiological parameters, which largely remain untested. These data demonstrate the fundamental importance of physiological mechanisms in controlling adaptive behavioral strategies and the dynamic interplay between physiological control of behavior and life-history evolution.