1. bookVolume 20 (2020): Issue 1 (January 2020)
Journal Details
First Published
25 Nov 2011
Publication timeframe
4 times per year
access type Open Access

Assessment of Cortisol and DHEA Concentrations in Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) Feathers to Evaluate its Allostatic Load

Published Online: 28 Jan 2020
Volume & Issue: Volume 20 (2020) - Issue 1 (January 2020)
Page range: 85 - 96
Received: 08 Mar 2019
Accepted: 02 Aug 2019
Journal Details
First Published
25 Nov 2011
Publication timeframe
4 times per year

The use of a non-invasive approach to collect biological samples from natural populations represents a great means of gathering information while avoiding handling animals. Even if corticosterone is the main glucocorticoid investigated in birds, there has been observed a proportional direct link between corticosterone and cortisol concentrations. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) can be produced by the adrenal cortex and should have prominent antiglucocorticoid properties also in birds. The aim of this study was to verify if there is any difference in the cortisol and DHEA feather concentrations between clinically normal and physiologically compromised Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) through the non-invasive approach of collecting moulted feathers without having to pluck them from the bird. The study was carried out using 8 physiologically compromised (PC) Griffons and 9 clinically normal Griffons considered as the control (CTRL) group that were necropsied or from the wildlife rehabilitation centre. Primary and secondary covert feathers were either collected directly from the birds’ cage floors, or, in the case of dead Griffons, they were plucked off the animals. The results, obtained by RIA, revealed that both cortisol (P<0.01) and DHEA (P<0.05) feather concentrations were higher in the PC than in the CTRL group. No difference was observed by comparing the cortisol/DHEA ratio between the two evaluated groups (P=0.15). Pearson’s correlation coefficients showed no correlation between feather hormone concentrations in the PC group (r=0.01, P=0.96) while a positive correlation in the CTRL group (r=0.65, P=0.006) was observed. In conclusion, our study reveals that moulted feathers can be a non-invasive and an interesting tool to evaluate the allostatic load of wild birds and they allowed better understanding the relationship between hormones of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and the physiological status of the birds.


Blauer K.L., Poth M., Rogers W.M., Bernton E.W. (1991). Dehydroepiandrosterone antagonizes the suppressive effects of dexamethasone on lymphocyte proliferation. Endocrinology, 129: 3174–3179.Search in Google Scholar

Bortolotti G.R., Marchant T.A., Blas J., German T. (2008). Corticosterone in feathers is a long-term, integrated measure of avian stress physiology. Funct. Ecol., 22: 494–500.Search in Google Scholar

Comin A., Peric T., Corazzin M., Veronesi M.C., Meloni T., Zufferli V., Cornacchia G., Prandi A. (2013). Hair cortisol as a marker of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation in Friesian dairy cows clinically or physiologically compromised. Livest. Sci., 152: 36–41.Search in Google Scholar

Fairhurst G.D., Frey M.D., Reichert J.F., Szelest I., Kelly D.M., Bortolotti G.R. (2011). Does environmental enrichment reduce stress? An integrated measure of corticosterone from feathers provides a novel perspective. PLoS One, 6: e17663.Search in Google Scholar

Flament A., Delleur V., Poulipoulis A., Marlier D. (2012). Corticosterone, cortisol, triglycerides, aspartate aminotransferase and uric acid plasma concentrations during foie gras production in male mule ducks (Anas platyrhynchos × Cairina moschata). Brit. Poultry Sci., 53: 408–413.Search in Google Scholar

Gallagher P., Leitch M.M., Massey A.E., McAllister-Williams R.H., Young A.H. (2006). Assessing cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in saliva: effects of collection method. J. Psychopharmacol., 20: 643–649.Search in Google Scholar

Galuppi R., Leveque J.F., Beghelli V., Bonoli C., Mattioli M., Ostanello F., Tampieri M.P., Accorsi P.A. (2013). Cortisol levels in cats’ hair in presence or absence of Microsporum canis infection. Res. Vet. Sci., 95: 1076–1080.Search in Google Scholar

Gervasi S.S., Burgan S.C., Hofmeister E., Unnasch T.R., Martin L.B. (2017). Stress hormones predict a host superspreader phenotype in the West Nile virus system. Proc. Biol. Sci., 284: 20171090.Search in Google Scholar

Goodyer I.M., Herbert J., Altham P.M. (1998). Adrenal steroid secretion and major depression in 8- to 16-year-olds, III. Influence of cortisol/DHEA ratio at presentation on subsequent rates of disappointing life events and persistent major depression. Psychol. Med., 28: 265–273.Search in Google Scholar

Griffiths R., Double M.C., Orr K., Dawson R J. (1998). A DNA test to sex most birds. Mol. Ecol., 7: 1071–1075.Search in Google Scholar

Harms N.J., Legagneux P., Gilchrist H., Bêty J., Love O.P., Forbes M., Bortolotti G.R., Soos C. (2015). Feather corticosterone reveals effect of moulting conditions in the autumn on subsequent reproductive output and survival in an Arctic migratory bird. Proc. Biol. Sci., 282: 20142085.Search in Google Scholar

Harriman V.B., Dawson R.D., Clark R.G., Fairhurst G.D., Bortolotti G.R. (2014). Effects of ectoparasites on seasonal variation in quality of nestling Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). Can. J. Zool., 92: 87–96.Search in Google Scholar

Hechter O., Grossman A., Chatterton R.T. Jr. (1997). Relationship of dehydroepiandrosterone and cortisol in disease. Med. Hypotheses, 49: 85–91.Search in Google Scholar

Hinkle D.E., Jurs S.G., Wiersma W. (2003). Applied statistics for the behavioral sciences. Boston, USA, Houghton Mifflin, 5th ed., 756 pp.Search in Google Scholar

Houston D.C. (1975). The moult of the White-backed and Rüppell’s Griffon vultures Gyps africanus and G. Rueppellii. Ibis, 117: 474–488.Search in Google Scholar

Hu Y., Cardounel A., Gursoy E., Anderson P., Kalimi M. (2000). Anti-stress effects of dehydroepiandrosterone: protection of rats against repeated immobilization stress-induced weight loss, glucocorticoid receptor production, and lipid peroxidation. Biochem. Pharmacol., 59: 753–762.Search in Google Scholar

Huber K. (2018). Invited review: resource allocation mismatch as pathway to disproportionate growth in farm animals – prerequisite for a disturbed health. Animal, 12: 528–536.Search in Google Scholar

IUCN (2012). Gyps fulvus. Liste rosse italiane. (http://www.iucn.it/scheda.php?id=-1607566788).Search in Google Scholar

Jenni-Eiermann S., Helfenstein F., Vallat A., Glauser G., Jenni L. (2015). Corticosterone: effects on feather quality and deposition into feathers. Methods Ecol. Evol., 6: 237–246.Search in Google Scholar

Kalimi M., Shafagoj Y., Loria R., Padgett D., Regelson W. (1994). Anti-glucocorticoid effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Mol. Cell. Biochem., 131: 99–104.Search in Google Scholar

Kennedy E.A., Lattin C., Romero L., Dearborn D. (2013). Feather coloration in museum specimens is related to feather corticosterone. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 67: 341–348.Search in Google Scholar

Kitaysky A.S., Kitaiskaia E.V., Piatt J.F., Wingfield J.C. (2003). Benefits and costs of increased levels of corticosterone in seabird chicks. Horm. Behav., 43: 140–149.Search in Google Scholar

Koren L., Nakagawa S., Burke T., Soma K.K., Wynne-Edwards K.E., Geffen E. (2012). Non-breeding feather concentrations of testosterone, corticosterone and cortisol are associated with subsequent survival in wild house sparrows. Proc. Biol. Sci., 279: 1560–1566.Search in Google Scholar

Kouwenberg A.L., Hipfner J.M., Mc Kay D.W., Storey A.E. (2013). Corticosterone and stable isotopes in feathers predict egg size in Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica. Ibis, 155: 413–418.Search in Google Scholar

Kroboth P.D., Salek F.S., Pittenger A.L., Fabian T.J., Frye R.F. (1999). DHEA and DHEA-S: a review. J. Clin. Pharmacol., 39: 327–348.Search in Google Scholar

Labrie F., Luu-The V., Martel C., Chernomoretz A., Calvo E., Morissette J., Labrie C. (2006). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an anabolic steroid like dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the most potent natural androgen, and tetrahydrogestrinone (THG). J. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol., 100: 52–58.Search in Google Scholar

Landys M.M., Ramenofsky M., Wingfield J.C. (2006). Actions of glucocorticoids at a seasonal baseline as compared to stress-related levels in the regulation of periodic life processes. Gen. Comp. Endocrinol., 148: 132–149.Search in Google Scholar

Maninger N., Wolkowitz O.M., Reus V.I., Epel E.S., Mellon S.H. (2009). Neurobiological and neuropsychiatric effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulfate (DHEAS). Front. Neuroendocrinol., 30: 65–91.Search in Google Scholar

Mc Ewen B.S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: central role of the brain. Physiol. Rev., 87: 873–904.Search in Google Scholar

Mc Ewen B.S., Wingfield J.C. (2003). The concept of allostasis in biology and biomedicine. Horm. Behav., 43: 2–15.Search in Google Scholar

Meitern R., Sild E., Lind M.A., Männiste M., Sepp T., Karu U., Hõrak P. (2013). Effects of endotoxin and psychological stress on redox physiology, immunity and feather corticosterone in greenfinches. PLoS One, 8: e67545.Search in Google Scholar

Monclús L., Ballesteros-Cano R., DeLaPuente J., Lacorte S., Lopez-Bejar M. (2018). Influence of persistent organic pollutants on the endocrine stress response in free-living and captive red kites (Milvus milvus). Environ. Pollut., 242: 329–337.Search in Google Scholar

Mougeot F., Martinez-Padilla J., Bortolotti G.R., Webster L.M., Piertney S.B. (2010). Physiological stress links parasites to carotenoid-based colour signals. J. Evol. Biol., 23: 643–650.Search in Google Scholar

Newman A.E., Soma K.K. (2009). Corticosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone in songbird plasma and brain: effects of season and acute stress. Eur. J. Neurosci., 29: 1905–1914.Search in Google Scholar

Newman A.E., Pradhan D.S., Soma K.K. (2008). Dehydroepiandrosterone and corticosterone are regulated by season and acute stress in a wild songbird: jugular versus brachial plasma. Endocrinology, 149: 2537–2545.Search in Google Scholar

Newman A.E., Zanette L.Y., Clinchy M., Goodenough N., Soma K.K. (2013). Stress in the wild: chronic predator pressure and acute restraint affect plasma DHEA and corticosterone levels in a songbird. Stress, 16: 363–367.Search in Google Scholar

Novak M.A., Hamel A.F., Coleman K., Lutz C.K., Worlein J., Menard M., Ryan A., Rosenberg K., Meyer J.S. (2014). Hair loss and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis activity in captive rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). J. Am. Assoc. Lab. Anim. Sci., 53: 261–266.Search in Google Scholar

Poisbleau M., Lacroix A., Chastel O. (2009). DHEA levels and social dominance relationships in wintering brent geese (Branta bernicla bernicla). Behav. Processes, 80: 99–103.Search in Google Scholar

Qiao S., Li X., Zilioli S., Chen Z., Deng H., Pan J., Guo W. (2017). Hair measurements of cortisol, DHEA, and DHEA to cortisol ratio as biomarkers of chronic stress among people living with HIV in China: Known-group validation. PLoS One, 12: e0169827.Search in Google Scholar

Rauw W.M. (2012). Immune response from a resource allocation perspective. Front. Genet., 3: 267.Search in Google Scholar

Romero L.M., Fairhurst G.D. (2016). Measuring corticosterone in feathers: Strengths, limitations, and suggestions for the future. Comp. Biochem. Physiol., Part A Mol. Integr. Physiol., 202: 112–122.Search in Google Scholar

Sapolsky R.M., Romero L.M., Munck A.U. (2000). How do glucocorticoids influence stress responses? Integrating permissive, suppressive, stimulatory, and preparative actions. Endocr. Rev., 21: 55–89.Search in Google Scholar

Sild E., Meitern R., Manniste M., Karu U., Horak P. (2014). High feather corticosterone indicates better coccidian infection resistance in greenfinches. Gen. Comp. Endocrinol., 204: 203–210.Search in Google Scholar

Van Uum S.H., Sauve B., Fraser L.A., Morley-Forster P., Paul T.L., Koren G. (2008). Elevated content of cortisol in hair of patients with severe chronic pain: a novel biomarker for stress. Stress, 11: 483–488.Search in Google Scholar

Wingfield J.C. (2013). Ecological processes and the ecology of stress: the impacts of abiotic environmental factors. Funct. Ecol., 27: 37–44.Search in Google Scholar

Wingfield J.C., Sapolsky R.M. (2003). Reproduction and resistance to stress: when and how. J. Neuroendocrinol., 15: 711–724.Search in Google Scholar

Wolkowitz O.M., Epel E.S., Reus V.I. (2001). Stress hormone-related psychopathology: patho-physiological and treatment implications. World J. Biol. Psychiatry, 2: 115–143.Search in Google Scholar

Wright B.E., Porter J.R., Browne E.S., Svec F. (1992). Antiglucocorticoid action of dehydroepiandrosterone in young obese Zucker rats. Int. J. Obes. Relat. Metab. Disord., 16: 579–583.Search in Google Scholar

Zuberogoitia I., De La Puente J., Elorriaga J., Alonso R., Palomares L.E., Martínez J.E. (2013). The flight feather molt of Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) and associated biological consequences. J. Raptor Res., 47: 292–303.Search in Google Scholar

Recommended articles from Trend MD

Plan your remote conference with Sciendo