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Behavioural stress response and melanin-based plumage colouration in barn swallow nestlings

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Consistent and correlated inter-individual differences in behaviours, the so-called ‘personalities’, have been identified in many vertebrates. The ability to respond to stressful events is part of personalities and can have important fitness consequences, as it determines how individuals cope with environmental challenges. As a consequence of pleiotropic effects of genes involved in several functions, inter-individual differences in behavioural responses can be associated with phenotypic traits, like melanin-based plumage colouration in birds. We examined the association between three proxies of the behavioural stress response and breast plumage colouration in barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) nestlings. We found that nestling behavioural responses were consistent within individuals and similar among siblings, thus suggesting that these behaviours may contribute to define individual ‘personalities’. However, nestling behavioural stress response was not significantly predicted by variation in breast plumage colouration, indicating that in juveniles of this species melanin-based colouration does not convey to conspecifics reliable information on individual ability to cope with stressful events.

Affiliations: 1: Dipartimento di Scienze e Politiche Ambientali, Università degli Studi di Milano, Via G. Celoria 26, 20133 Milano, Italy

*Corresponding authors’ e-mail addresses: and

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