Chronic stress generally inhibits the activity of the reproductive system. Acute stress also is often inhibitory, but the mechanism involved and its persistence of action once animals are no longer exposed to the stressor are poorly understood. We investigated the effect of capture and restraint stress on plasma testosterone (T), luteinizing hormone (LH), and corticosterone (CORT) in free-ranging male rufous-winged sparrows, Peucaea carpalis. Stress decreased plasma T between 10 and 30 min after capture and restraint but did not influence plasma LH, the main hormone that controls T secretion, suggesting that stress did not decrease plasma T by inhibiting LH secretion. The stress-induced decrease in plasma T was associated with elevated plasma CORT, but there was no evidence that these effects were functionally related. Plasma stress-induced T was positively related to plasma initial T measured within 2 min of capture. This relationship was, however, complex as plasma T decreased proportionally more in response to stress in sparrows with high than low plasma initial T. The relative sensitivity to the same stressor was, therefore, individually variable and this variation was related to initial plasma T. Birds caught and restrained for 30 min, and then released on their breeding territory before recapture up to 6 h later, maintained depressed plasma T, indicating that the effect of acute stress on this hormone persists after the stressor removal. These studies provide new information on the effects of acute stress on plasma T in free-ranging birds. In particular, they are among the first to characterize the time course and to describe the persistence of these effects. The findings also contribute to identifying factors that are associated with individual differences in plasma hormone levels.
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