Rebecca Holberton

Rebecca HolbertonProfessor Emerita of Avian Biology

rebecca.holberton AT

Degree: Ph.D. 1991 State University of New York, Albany

Research Topic:
The endocrine basis of bird ecology and behavior; reproductive biology, bird migration and conservation

Research Program:
Key questions in avian biology today include: How are bird populations regulated? What factors ultimately affect survival and reproduction? How do environmental conditions during the non-breeding periods of wintering and migration ultimately influence breeding success? How do migrants prepare for and complete their journeys? These questions are applicable across a wide variety of bird species and are critical to our understanding of how bird populations are regulated and what factors need to be considered for conservation concerns. By looking at how environmental conditions (weather, food, etc.) influence energy demand throughout the annual cycle, we can gain a better understanding of how ecological, behavioral, and physiological factors act as “carry-over effects” from one stage to the next (e.g. of “seasonal interactions”). Throughout our work, plasma hormones, metabolites, immune function, and other measures of body condition are examined provide insights into how well individuals are regulating energy. Stable isotope signatures incorporated into tissues such as feathers, claws, and blood are used as biogeographic markers of where and when within the annual cycle individuals may be encountering challenges to their energy demand.

While each project has a strong “basic” research foundation, they all have an applied, conservation component that considers naturally-occurring environmental factors as well as those that occur through anthropogenic activities such as land use practices, pollution, and development. Loss of suitable resources may occur at one or more stages of the annual cycle and, ultimately, the work focuses on understanding how these stages are linked.

Current Projects include:

  • physiological Ecology of Seasonal Interactions: How Do Wintering Ground Events Constrain Breeding Success in Neotropical Migrants?
  • Eco-physiological Underpinnings of Different Migration Strategies Within and Across Species.
  • Bird Migration in the Gulf of Maine Region: Resource Management Through Identifying the Temporal and Spatial Patterns of Migratory Birds Along Coastal and Offshore Areas.
  • Energetic Condition, Resource Quality, and Seabird Population Regulation in the Gulf of Maine.
Tonra, C.M., Marra, P.P., & Holberton, R.L. 2011. Migration phenology and winter habitat quality are related to circulating androgen in a long-distance migratory bird. J. Avian Biology doi:10.111/j.1600-0587.2011.05333.x.Tonra, C.M., Marra, P.P., & Holberton, R.L. 2011. Early elevation of testosterone advances migratory preparation in a songbird. J. Expíl Biol. 214: 2761-2767.Angelier, F. Tonra, C.M., Holberton, R.L., Marra, P.P. 2011. Short-term changes in body condition in relation to habitat and rainfall abundance in American redstarts, Setophaga ruticilla, during the non-breeding season. J. Avian Biology 42:335-341 (DOI:10.1111/j.1600-048X.2011.05369.x)Angelier, F., Ballentine, B. Holberton, R.L., Marra, P.P. and Greenberg, R. 2011. What drives variation in the corticosterone stress response between subspecies?: a common garden experiment of Swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana). J. Evolutionary Biology 24: 1160-1392 (DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02260.x)Covino, K.M. & Holberton, R.L. 2011. The influence of energetic condition on flight initiation and orientation of migratory songbirds in the Gulf of Maine region. The Auk:313-320. (DOI:10.1525/auk.2011.09225Wilson, C.M., Joos, R. & Holberton, R.L. in review. A comparative study of the nesting biology and parental behavior of sub-Arctic- and temperate-breeding Yellow warblers. J. of Field Ornithology.Horton, B.M. & Holberton, R.L. 2010. Morph-specific variation in baseline corticosterone and the adrenocortical response in breeding white-throated sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis. The Auk:127:540-548.Angelier, F., Holberton, R.L. and Marra, P.P. 2009. Does stress response predict return rate in a migratory bird species?: A study of American redstarts and their non-breeding habitat. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276: 3545-3551 (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0868)Angelier, F., Tonra, C.M., Holberton, R.L. and Marra, P.P. 2009. How to capture wild passerine species to study baseline corticosterone levels. J. Ornithology 151: 415-422 (DOI 10.1007/s10336-009-0471-6)Johnston, J.C. and Holberton, R.L. 2009. Forest management and temporal effects on food availability for a ground-foraging bird (Catharus guttatus). Forest Ecology and Management 258:1516-1527.Horton, B.M. and Holberton, R.L. 2009. Corticosterone manipulations alter morph-specific nestling provisioning behavior in male white-throated sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis. Hormones and Behavior 56:510-518.Readel, A.M., Warner, J.K., Holberton, R.L. and Phillips, C.A. 2008. Maturational changes in male Slider turtles (Trachemys scripta) from Illinois. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 3: 170-175.Holberton, R.L., Boswell, T., and Hunter, M.J. 2008. Circulating prolactin and corticosterone concentrations during the development of migratory condition in the Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis. General and Comparative Endocrinology 155:641-649.Horton, B.M., Long, J.A. and Holberton, R.L. 2007. Intraperitoneal delivery of exogenous corticosterone via osmotic pump in a passerine bird. General and Comparative Endocrinology: 152:8-13.Wilson, C.M. and Holberton, R.L. 2007. Differences in song rate in two populations of Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia). Wilson Journal of Ornithology 119:132-135.Wilson, C. M. and Holberton, R.L. 2007. Are nestlings the cue for reduction of the adrenocortical response to stress in male Yellow Warblers breeding at high latitude? Condor 109:675-679.Holberton, R.L., Wilson, C.M., Hunter, M.J., Cash, W.B. and Sims, C.G. 2007. The role of corticosterone in supporting migratory lipogenesis of the Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis: A model for central and peripheral regulation. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 80:125-137Carlisle, J.D. & Holberton, R.L. 2006. Relative efficiency of a tartrate emetic for assessing diet and its deleterious effects on migratory birds: a cautionary note. Journal of Field Ornithology 77:126-135

Perkins, D.E. and Holberton, R.L. 2006. Indicators of body condition, energy demand, and breeding success in the Ruddy Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, a species of concern. In Waterbirds Around the World. Eds. G.C. Boere, C.A. Galbraith, and D. A. Stroud. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK. Pp. 551-552.

Holberton, R.L. and Able, K.P. 2005. Eberhard Gwinner ñ In Memoriam. The Auk 122: in press.

Cash, W. B. and Holberton, R.L. 2005. Endocrine and behavioral response to a decline in habitat quality: effects of pond drying on the Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta. Journal of Experimental Zoology 303A:872-879.

Holberton, R.L. and Dufty, Jr., A.M. 2005. Hormone Patterns and Variation in Life History Strategies of Migratory and Non-migratory Birds, pp 290-302 in Birds of Two Worlds: The Ecology and Evolution of Migratory Birds (Marra, P. and Goldberg, R., Eds.), Johns Hopkins Press.

Wilson, C. Morgan and Holberton, R.L. 2004. Personal risk versus immediate reproductive success: a basis for latitudinal differences in the adrenocortical response to stress in Yellow warblers, Dendroica petechia. The Auk 121: 1238-1249.

Holberton, R.L. 2004. Blackpoll Biology. p 118 In Birdlife of the Churchill Region: Status, History, Biology. J.R. Jehl, Jr., Trafford Publ., Victoria, B. C.

Wilson, C. M., and Holberton, R.L. 2004. High Latitude Hormones. p. 117 In Birdlife of the Churchill Region: Status, History, Biology. J.R. Jehl, Jr., Trafford Publ., Victoria, B. C.

Long, J. A. and Holberton, R. L. 2004 Corticosterone secretion, energetic condition, and a test of the Migration Modulation Hypothesis in the Hermit Thrush. The Auk 121: 1094-1102.

Lõhmus, M., Sandberg, R., Holberton, R. L. and Moore, Frank R. 2003. Corticosterone levels in relation to migratory readiness in Red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 54:233-239.

Holberton, R.L. and Wingfield, J.C. 2003. Modulating the corticosterone stress response: a mechanism for balancing individual risk and reproductive success in Arctic-breeding sparrows? The Auk 120:1140-1150.

Cash, W. B. and Holberton, R.L. 2002. An apparatus to measure the locomotor activity of freshwater turtles held in captivity. Herpetological Review 33: 181-182.

Wilson, C. M. and Holberton, R.L. 2001. An alternative method for delivering adrenocorticotropin hormone in birds. Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 122:1-5.

Mizrahi, D., Holberton, R.L. and Gauthreaux, S.A., Jr.. 2001. Plasma corticosterone and adrenocortical stress response in Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Calidris pusilla, at a major stopover site during spring migration. The Auk 118:79-91.

Holberton, R.L. and Able, K.P. 2000. Differential migration and an endocrine response to stress in wintering Dark-eyed Juncos. Proc. Royal Soc. 267:1889-1896.

Sims, C.G. and Holberton, R.L. 2000. Development of the corticosterone stress response in young mockingbirds, Mimus polyglottos. Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 119:193-201

Holberton, R.L. 1999. Changes in patterns of corticosterone secretion concurrent with migratory fattening in a Neotropical migratory bird. Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 116:49-58.

Cash, W.B. and Holberton, R.L. 1999. The effects of exogenous corticosterone on locomotor activity in the Red-eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans. J. Exp. Zool. 284:637-644.

Holberton, R.L., Marra, P.P. and Moore, F.R. 1999. Endocrine aspects of physiological condition, weather and habitat quality in landbird migrants during the non-breeding period. In Proceedings of the 22nd International Ornithological Congress, (N. J. Adams and R. H. Slotow, Eds), pp. 847-866. Johannesburg, South Africa: BirdLife South Africa.

Holberton, R.L. 1999. book review of Migration and Survival of the Birds of Asia, H. Elliott McClure. 1998. White Lotus Co., Ltd., Bangkok, Thailand. The Auk

Marra, P. P. and Holberton, R.L. 1998. Corticosterone levels as indicators of habitat quality: effects of habitat segregation in a migratory bird during the non-breeding season. Oecologia: 116:284-292.

Cash, W.B., Holberton, R.L. and Knight, S.S. 1997. Corticosterone secretion in response to capture and handling in free-living Red-eared Slider turtles. Gen. Comp. Endocrinol. 108:427-433.

Holberton, R.L., Parrish, J.D. and Wingfield, J.C., 1996. Modulation of the adrenocortical stress response in Neotropical migrants during autumn migration. The Auk 113:558-564.

Holberton, R.L., Wingfield, J.C. and Helmuth, B.S., 1996. The corticosterone-based stress response in Gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) and King (Aptenodytes patagonicus) penguins in the Antarctic winter. Condor 98:850-854.

Holberton, R.L., and Wingfield, J.C. 1994. Adrenocortical responses to stress in Antarctic seabirds. Antarctic Journal of the United States 29:167.

Wingfield, J.C., Deviche, P., Sharbaugh, S., Astheimer, L.B., Holberton, R.L., Suydam, R., and Hunt, K. 1994. Seasonal changes of the adrenocortical responses to stress in Common Redpolls, Acanthis flammea, in Alaska. J. Exp. Zool. 270:372-380.

Helmuth, B., Veit, R.R. and Holberton, R.L., 1994. Long distance dispersal of a subantarctic brooding bivalve, Gaimardia trapesina, by kelp rafting. Marine Biol. 120:421-426.

Helmuth, B., Veit, R.R. and Holberton, R.L. 1994. Dispersal of benthic invertebrates in the Scotia Arc by kelp rafting. Antarctic Journal of the United States 29:145.

Holberton, R.L. 1993. An endogenous basis for differential migration in the dark-eyed junco. Condor 95:580-587.

Holberton, R.L. and Able, K.P. 1992. Persistence of circannual cycles in a migratory bird held in constant dim light. J. Comp. Physiol. A. 171: 477-481.

Holberton, R.L., Hanano, R. and Able, K.P. 1990. Age-related dominance in male dark-eyed juncos: effects of plumage and prior residence. Anim. Behav. 40:573-579.

Holberton, R.L., Able, K.P. and Wingfield, J.C. 1989. Status signalling in dark-eyed juncos, Junco hyemalis: plumage manipulations and hormonal correlates of dominance. Anim. Behav. 37:681-689.