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Animals are continuously aware of and responding to their physical and social environment. The key axis that mediates physiological adjustments to changes in the environment is the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis with its hormones cortisol and corticosterone. These hormones, known as glucocorticoid hormones, have metabolic and behavioural actions that help animals adjust to and cope with short and longer term changes in their environment. My research programme addresses questions about glucocorticoid responses of animals to environmental stimuli. Animals are said to experience stress when glucocorticoid secretion increases, so my glucocorticoid research is stress research.
I am especially interested in the variation between birds in their corticosterone responses. Individuals consistently have relatively low or high corticosterone responses, with the responses associated with consistent behavioural responses to environmental stimuli known as personalities. My research investigates relationships between corticosterone responses, personality and fitness (breeding success and the production of offspring) in birds. This research falls under the broad heading of organismal biology which is the study of structure, function, ecology and evolution at the level of the organism. Organismal biology is currently experiencing a renaissance, with growing recognition of the importance of studying whole organisms in their environment.
I have worked with Adelie and emperor penguins in Antarctica, and with hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) and kororā (little penguins) in New Zealand. The kororā is now my main study species. The whakataukī (proverb) for my current research programme is "He kororā, he tohu oranga" which means "The little penguin is the sign of life". The little penguin is the kororā in Māori, and in mātauranga Māori the success of korora populations indicates the health of the coastal environment.
The overall goals of my research are:
Professor Cockrem's research considers responses of animals, especially birds, to changes in their environment. His comparative endocrinology research began with his PhD studies at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. He has considered topics ranging from fundamental studies of physiological mechanisms to the development of conservation methods for New Zealand birds. Study species have included Adelie and emperor penguins in Antarctica, kiwi, kakapo, tuatara and a wide range of other animals. His research is now focussed on the kororā (little penguin), with iwi involvement and recognition of mātauranga Māori traditional knowledge of the kororā central to this work.
Responses of animals to changes in their environment
Individual variation in stress responses of animals
Stress and the measurement of stress
Corticosterone in birds
Penguin biology and conservation, especially the kororā (little penguin)
Recognition of mātauranga Māori
21st Century Citizenship
Field of research codes
Animal Physiology - Systems (060603): Animal Structure and Function (060807): Biological Sciences (060000): Comparative Physiology (060604):
Conservation and Biodiversity (050202): Ecological Applications (050100): Ecological Impacts of Climate Change (050101): Environmental Science and Management (050200): Environmental Sciences (050000):
Wildlife and Habitat Management (050211):
Comparative endocrinology, stress and the measurement of stress, individual variation, animal personality, penguin biology and conservation, kororā, ornithology