Socially-induced variation in physiological mediators of parental care in a colonial bird
Social facilitation of reproduction occurs in humans and animals, and may represent one of the bases of reproduction in groups. However, its underlying physiological mechanisms remain largely unexplored. Here, we found in a colonial bird, the Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae), that the number of parental interactions (nest relief ceremonies) performed by breeding individuals on the colony was positively related to prolactin levels in other breeding individuals exposed to these interactions (i.e. focal individuals). As prolactin is typically involved in the expression of parental behaviour in birds, this suggests that parental interactions by conspecifics represent social cues that might increase parental motivation in focal individuals. Moreover, parental interactions were not related to corticosterone levels in focal individuals, suggesting that these social cues were not stressful for penguins. However, social stimulation still had a cost for focal individuals, as it was negatively related to their antioxidant defences (a component of self-maintenance). As social stimulation was also positively related to prolactin levels, this highlights the fact that social stimulation acts on the trade-off between reproduction and self-maintenance. For the first time, the results of the current study shed light on the physiological factors potentially underlying social facilitation of parental care. Importantly, they suggest that, even though social facilitation of parental care may increase breeding performance, it can also negatively affect other fitness components.