The research topics I am interested in cover behavioural and evolutionary ecology and physiology. Especially, I am curious about why we find variation between and consistency within individuals in behavioural and physiological traits. Why are some individuals bolder or more aggressive than their conspecifics? Why do different individuals vary in their way to cope with stressors? The concepts of animal personalities and stress coping styles are promising ways to answer these questions. Therefore my studies focus on differences in behaviour and endocrinology (glucocorticoid hormones in particular). By investigating a wild population of common eiders (Somateria mollissima), I am trying to understand the ecological and evolutionary causes and consequences of consistent individual differences in behaviour and stress coping styles. Furthermore, I have been working with European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in the field and in the laboratory. Here, I was interested in how environmental and social factors influence litter survival and how abiotic factors and individual quality interactively affect energy expenditure.
Currently I am working on my PhD thesis, which I plan to defend soon. In my thesis I am unravelling how and why female eiders differ in their boldness and stress responsiveness. Furthermore, I shed light on how boldness and stress responsiveness is related to nest-site selection and reproductive success. Boldness was assessed by the female’s flight initiation distance and stress responsiveness by handling-induced measures of serum CORT and body temperature. Additionally I illustrate how baseline serum and faecal CORT is related to reproductive success (‘CORT-fitness hypothesis’) and emphasize that the CORT-fitness relationship is often context-dependent. Finally I demonstrate that predation risk can influence the association between maternal investment, stress reactivity and reproductive success.
In a next step I would like to investigate how personality and stress coping is related to group formation and duckling survival. After hatching of their clutch, eider mothers choose between different strategies to care for their offspring. The question is: Do I care alone or do I join a group with other females? A female’s personality and stress coping style might influence these decisions.
Another idea is to measure prolactin and aldosterone concentrations, additionally to CORT levels. Since all three hormones are physiological indices of well-being and reproductive effort, this assessment would provide us with a more holistic view on the health status of female eiders. Eider populations in the Baltic Sea as well as worldwide, have been declining dramatically during the last two decades. Combining data on behavioral and morphological traits and reproductive success with data on hormone levels, a comprehensive baseline of health can be constructed. Conservation managers could utilise this baseline to begin identifing those individuals or populations at risk or under environmental pressures.
Seltmann, M.W., Jaatinen, K., Steele, B.B. & Öst, M. 2014. Boldness and stress responsiveness as drivers of nest-site selection in a ground-nesting bird. Ethology, 120, 77-89. doi: 10.1111/eth.12181
Jaatinen, K., Seltmann, M.W., Hollmén, T., Atkinson, S., Mashburn, K. & Öst, M. 2013. Context dependency of baseline glucocorticoids as indicators of individual quality in a capital breeder. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 191, 231-238. Abstract
Seltmann, M.W., Öst, M., Jaatinen, K., Atkinson, S., Mashburn, K., Hollmén, T. 2012. Stress responsiveness, age and body condition interactively affect flight initiation distance in breeding female eiders. Animal Behaviour, 84, 889–896.
Seltmann MW, Ruf T, Rödel HG (2009). Effects of body mass and huddling on resting metabolic rates of post-weaned European rabbits under different simulated weather conditions. Functional Ecology
Rödel HG, Starkloff A, Prager G, Seltmann MW, von Holst D (2009). Causes and predictors of nest mortality in a European rabbit population. Mammalian Biology 74: 198-209