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A Place to Hide in the Home-Cage Decreases Yolk Androgen Levels and Offspring Emotional Reactivity in Japanese Quail
Published: Thursday, September 29, 2011
Author: Vanessa Guesdon et al.

by Vanessa Guesdon, Aline Bertin, Cécilia Houdelier, Sophie Lumineau, Laureline Formanek, Kurt Kotrschal, Erich Möstl, Marie-Annick Richard-Yris

An animal's emotional responses are the result of its cognitive appraisal of a situation. This appraisal is notably influenced by the possibility of an individual to exert control over an aversive event. Although the fact that environment controllability decreases emotional responses in animals is well established, far less is known about its potential trans-generational effects. As the levels of avian yolk hormones can vary according to the mother's environment, we hypothesized that housing environment of mothers would modulate the quality of her eggs and in turn her offspring's behaviour. Two groups of female Japanese quail were constituted: a group that had access to a place to hide in their home-cage (Hd, n?=?20) and a group that had nowhere to hide (NoHd, n?=?20) when stressed. Both groups were submitted to daily human disturbances for a twenty-day-period. Hd females produced eggs with both less testosterone and androstenedione than did NoHd females. The emotional and social reactivity of Hd females' offspring were lower and their growth was slower than those of NoHd females' offspring. Our results show that a minor difference in housing environment had substantial effects on eggs and offspring. The presence of a shelter probably helped quail to cope with daily human disturbances, producing less reactive offspring. This transgenerational effect caused by an opportunity to hide could lead to applications in care of laboratory animals, conservation biology and animal welfare.