Invader danger: lizards faced with novel predators exhibit an altered behavioral response to stress.
ABSTRACT Animals respond to stressors by producing glucocorticoid stress hormones, such as corticosterone (CORT). CORT acts too slowly to trigger immediate behavioral responses to a threat, but can change longer-term behavior, facilitating an individual's survival to subsequent threats. To be adaptive, the nature of an animal's behavior following elevated CORT levels should be matched to the predominant threats that they face. Seeking refuge following a stressful encounter could be beneficial if the predominant predator is a visual hunter, but may prove detrimental when the predominant predator is able to enter these refuge sites. As a result, an individual's behavior when their CORT levels are high may differ among populations of a single species. Invasive species impose novel pressures on native populations, which may select for a shift in their behavior when CORT levels are high. We tested whether the presence of predatory invasive fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) at a site affects the behavioral response of native eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) to elevated CORT levels. Lizards from an uninvaded site were more likely to hide when their CORT levels were experimentally elevated; a response that likely provides a survival advantage for lizards faced with native predatory threats (e.g. birds and snakes). Lizards from a fire ant invaded site showed the opposite response; spending more time moving and up on the basking log when their CORT levels were elevated. Use of the basking log likely reflects a refuge-seeking behavior, rather than thermoregulatory activity, as selected body temperatures were not affected by CORT. Fleeing off the ground may prove more effective than hiding for lizards that regularly encounter small, terrestrially-foraging fire ant predators. This study suggests that invasive species may alter the relationship between the physiological and behavioral stress response of native species.
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ABSTRACT: Prolonged elevations of glucocorticoids due to long-duration (chronic) stress can suppress immune function. It is unclear, however, how natural stressors that result in repeated short-duration (acute) stress, such as frequent agonistic social encounters or predator attacks, fit into our current understanding of the immune consequences of stress. Since these types of stressors may activate the immune system due to increased risk of injury, immune suppression may be reduced at sites where individuals are repeatedly exposed to potentially damaging stressors. We tested whether repeated acute elevations of corticosterone (CORT, a glucocorticoid) suppress immune function in eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus), and whether this effect varies between lizards from high-stress (high baseline CORT, invaded by predatory fire ants) and low-stress (low baseline CORT, uninvaded) sites. Lizards treated daily with exogenous CORT showed higher hemagglutination of novel proteins by their plasma (a test of constitutive humoral immunity) than control lizards, a pattern that was consistent across sites. There was no significant effect of CORT treatment on bacterial killing ability of plasma. These results suggest that repeated elevations of CORT, which are common in nature, produce immune effects more typical of those expected at the acute end of the acute-chronic spectrum and provide no evidence of modulated consequences of elevated CORT in animals from high-stress sites.General and Comparative Endocrinology 01/2014; 204:135-140. · 2.82 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: As environments become increasingly altered due to anthropogenic factors, interest is growing in how endocrine systems respond to pollution and environmental degradation. Glucocorticoid hormones (GCs) are a type of stress hormones that are released upon activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and have widespread effects throughout the body. We tested the hypothesis that exposure to environmental acidification is associated with altered levels of plasma GCs in adult, stream-side Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders (D. ochrophaeus). We compared plasma corticosterone (CORT) in salamanders living in 9 streams that differed in pH. Although capture and handling induced a robust increase in plasma CORT in all populations of salamanders, we discerned no significant effect of environmental pH on baseline CORT or handling-induced CORT levels. In a laboratory study, low pH decreased salamander locomotory activity compared to acid-neutral controls, but there was no effect of pH on plasma CORT. Decreased locomotory activity is a common amphibian response to stress, indicating that low pH has adverse effects on Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders. Overall, we conclude that the effects of environmental pH on salamander behavior and other potential responses are not mediated by changes in plasma CORT levels. We discuss alternative explanations for our results and describe difficulties involved in searching for relationships between plasma GCs and environmental degradation.General and Comparative Endocrinology 03/2014; · 2.82 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: A challenge to ecologists and evolutionary biologists is predicting organismal responses to the anticipated changes to global ecosystems through climate change. Most evidence suggests that short-term global change may involve increasing occurrences of extreme events, therefore the immediate response of individuals will be determined by physiological capacities and life-history adaptations to cope with extreme environmental conditions. Here, we consider the role of hormones and maternal effects in determining the persistence of species in altered environments. Hormones, specifically steroids, are critical for patterning the behaviour and morphology of parents and their offspring. Hence, steroids have a pervasive influence on multiple aspects of the offspring phenotype over its lifespan. Stress hormones, e.g. glucocorticoids, modulate and perturb phenotypes both early in development and later into adulthood. Females exposed to abiotic stressors during reproduction may alter the phenotypes by manipulation of hormones to the embryos. Thus, hormone-mediated maternal effects, which generate phenotypic plasticity, may be one avenue for coping with global change. Variation in exposure to hormones during development influences both the propensity to disperse, which alters metapopulation dynamics, and population dynamics, by affecting either recruitment to the population or subsequent life-history characteristics of the offspring. We suggest that hormones may be an informative index to the potential for populations to adapt to changing environments.Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 06/2012; 367(1596):1647-64. · 6.23 Impact Factor