Does prolactin mediate parental and life-history decisions in response to environmental conditions in birds? A review

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Frédéric Angelier, John C. Wingfield, Sabrina Tartu, Olivier Chastel
Hormones and Behavior
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This article is part of a Special Issue “Parental Care”. In vertebrates, adjustments of physiology and behavior to environmental changes are often mediated by central physiological mechanisms, and more specifically by hormonal mechanisms. As a consequence, these mechanisms are thought to orchestrate life-history decisions in wild vertebrates. For instance, investigating the hormonal regulation of parental behavior is relevant to evaluate how parents modulate their effort according to specific environmental conditions. Surprisingly and despite being classically known as the ‘parental hormone’, prolactin has been overlooked in birds relative to this context. Our aim is to review evidence that changes in prolactin levels can mediate, at least to some extent, the response of breeding birds to environmental conditions. To do so, we first examine current evidence and limits for the role of prolactin in mediating parental behavior in birds. Second, we emphasize the influence of environmental conditions and stressors on circulating prolactin levels. In addition, we review to what extent prolactin levels are a reliable predictor of breeding success in wild birds. By linking environmental conditions, prolactin regulation, parental behavior, and breeding success, we highlight the potential role of this hormone in mediating parental decisions in birds. Finally, we also review the potential role of prolactin in mediating other life history decisions such as clutch size, re-nesting, and the timing of molt. By evaluating the influence of stressors on circulating prolactin levels during these other life-history decisions, we also raise new hypotheses regarding the potential of the prolactin stress response to regulate the orchestration of the annual cycle when environmental changes occur. To sum up, we show in this review that prolactin regulation has a strong potential to allow ecological physiologists to better understand how individuals adjust their life-history decisions (clutch size, parental behavior, re-nesting, and onset of molt) according to the environmental conditions they encounter and we encourage further research on that topic.


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