Prof John Cockrem staff profile picture

Contact details +6469518126

Prof John Cockrem

Professor of Comparative Endocrinology

School of Veterinary Science

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:

  • to understand how individual differences in glucocorticoid stress responses are related to the ability of animals to cope with changes in their environment
  • to use knowledge of glucocorticoid stress responses to help predict how populations of animals will respond to climate change
  • to use skills in the measurement of stress for the benefit of conservation programmes for free-living and captive animals
  • to determine breeding success, body condition, survival and foraging locations of kororā at colonies around the New Zealand coastline and to use these data as indicators of differences between locations and changes from year to year in the health of the marine environment
  • to collate and present mātauranga Māori knowledge of the kororā
  • to develop novel methods for the establishment of new breeding populations of kororā and hence to reverse the current decline of the species

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.

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Contact details

  • Ph: +64 6 951 8126
    Location: 6.10, Veterinary Science IVABS
    Campus: Turitea

Research Expertise

Research Interests

Comparative endocrinology

Avian endocrinology

Conservation endocrinology

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

Area of Expertise

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):
Physiology (060600):
Wildlife and Habitat Management (050211):
Zoology (060800)


Comparative endocrinology, stress and the measurement of stress, individual variation,  animal personality, penguin biology and conservation, kororā, ornithology

Research Projects

Summary of Research Projects

Position Current Completed
Project Leader 2 10
Team Member 0 2

Teaching and Supervision

Courses Coordinated

  • 194.345 Comparative Physiology
  • 194.709 Conservation Endocrinology and Reproductive Biology

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

Position Current Completed
Main Supervisor 0 2
Co-supervisor 0 2

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Main Supervisor of:

  • 2010 - Julian Wall - Doctor of Philosophy
    Corticosterone, fear behaviour and plasma corticosterone responses to stressors in Japanese quail
  • 2003 - Ellen Bennett - Doctor of Philosophy
    Hormonal Stimulation of ovarian development, ovulation and oviposition in Japanese Quail.

Co-supervisor of:

  • 2014 - Santosh Sahu - Doctor of Philosophy
    Improving the Response to Synchronisation Programmes of Dairy Cattle
  • 2010 - Rajesh Sharma - Doctor of Philosophy
    The effects of uterine environment upon embryonic, fetal, neonatal and post-natal development and glucose metabolism in sheep

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