Measuring salivary mesotocin in birds - Seasonal differences in ravens' peripheral mesotocin levels

Hormones and Behavior

Oxytocin is involved in a broad array of social behaviours. While saliva has been used regularly to investigate the role of oxytocin in social behaviour of mammal species, so far, to our knowledge, no-one has tried to measure its homolog, mesotocin, in birds' saliva. Therefore, in this study we measured salivary mesotocin in common ravens (Corvus corax), and subsequently explored its link to three aspects of raven sociality. We trained ravens (n = 13) to voluntarily provide saliva samples and analysed salivary mesotocin with a commercial oxytocin enzyme-immunoassay kit, also suitable for mesotocin. After testing parallelism and recovery, we investigated the effect of bonding status, sex and season on mesotocin levels. We found that mesotocin was significantly more likely to be detected in samples taken during the breeding season (spring) than during the mating season (winter). In those samples in which mesotocin was detected, concentrations were also significantly higher during the breeding than during the mating season. In contrast, bonding status and sex were not found to relate to mesotocin detectability and concentrations. The seasonal differences in mesotocin correspond to behavioral patterns known to be associated with mesotocin/oxytocin, with ravens showing much more aggression during the mating season while being more tolerant of conspecifics in the breeding season. We show for the first time that saliva samples can be useful for the non-invasive determination of hormone levels in birds. However, the rate of successfully analysed samples was very low, and collection and analysis methods will benefit from further improvements.

Stocker, M., Prosl, J., Vanhooland, L-C., Horn, L., Bugnyar, T., Canoine, V., & Massen, J. J. M. (2021). Measuring salivary mesotocin in birds - Seasonal differences in ravens' peripheral mesotocin levels. Hormones and Behavior, 134, [105015].