Wild animals often encounter adverse conditions, and in response, activate their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. To date, work examining the development of the stress response has focused on altricial species, with little work focusing on species with other developmental patterns. Additionally, the effects of acute stress on indices of innate and adaptive immunity have been little studied in birds, particularly during development. We examined the ontogeny of the stress response in the semi-precocial ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis). At hatch, 10, and 20days post-hatching, chicks underwent a standardized handling stress protocol, with blood samples taken within 3min of, and 30min after, initial disturbance. Levels of corticosterone (CORT), natural antibodies (NAb), complement activity, and immunoglobulins (IgY) were assessed in plasma samples. In contrast with altricial species, ring-billed gull chicks had detectible CORT levels at hatch, and were able to mount a stress response. At all ages, acute handling stress depressed NAb levels and complement-mediated lysis, but not IgY levels. IgY levels were higher in two chick broods than three chick broods, suggesting levels are determined in part by resource dependence. Our data provide insight into the development of the stress response and immune function in a colonial waterbird species, in which chicks are mobile shortly post hatch, and subject to aggression and possible injury from nearby adults.
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