Eye region surface temperature reflects both energy reserves and circulating glucocorticoids in a wild bird

Paul Jerem*, Susanne Jenni-Eiermann, Katherine Herborn, Dorothy McKeegan, Dominic J. McCafferty, Ruedi G. Nager

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Body temperature of endotherms shows substantial within- and between-individual variation, but the sources of this variation are not fully understood in wild animals. Variation in body temperature can indicate how individuals cope with their environment via metabolic or stress-induced effects, both of which may relate to depletion of energy reserves. Body condition can reflect heat production through changes to metabolic rate made to protect energy reserves. Additionally, changes in metabolic processes may be mediated by stress-related glucocorticoid secretion, which is associated with altered blood-flow patterns that affect regional body temperatures. Accordingly, both body condition and glucocorticoid secretion should relate to body temperature. We used thermal imaging, a novel non-invasive method of temperature measurement, to investigate relationships between body condition, glucocorticoid secretion and body surface temperature in wild blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus). Individuals with lower body condition had lower eye-region surface temperature in both non-breeding and breeding seasons. Eye-region surface temperature was also negatively correlated with baseline circulating glucocorticoid levels in non-breeding birds. Our results demonstrate that body surface temperature can integrate multiple aspects of physiological state. Consequently, remotely-measured body surface temperature could be used to assess such aspects of physiological state non-invasively in free-living animals at multiple life history stages.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1907
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


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