Elevated hormonal stress response and reduced reproductive output in Yellow-eyed penguins to unregulated tourism

Department of Zoology, University of Otago, 340 Great King St., PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.
General and Comparative Endocrinology (Impact Factor: 2.47). 05/2007; 152(1):54-63. DOI: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2007.02.022
Source: PubMed


The endangered, endemic Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) is one of the flagship species for New Zealand's wildlife tourism, and recently concern has been raised that tourism-related pressures may be becoming too great. We compared two neighbouring breeding areas exposed to different levels of human disturbance. Penguins at the site exposed to unregulated tourism showed significantly lower breeding success and fledging weights than those in an area visited infrequently for monitoring purposes only. High parental baseline corticosterone concentrations correlated with lower fledgling weights at both sites. Stress-induced corticosterone concentrations were significantly higher at the tourist-exposed site, suggesting birds have been sensitized by frequent disturbance. Consequences are likely to include reduced juvenile survival and recruitment to the tourist site, while the changed hormonal stress responses may ultimately have an effect on adult fitness and survival. For maintenance of attractive Yellow-eyed penguin-viewing destinations we recommend that tourists stay out of breeding areas and disturbance at penguin landing beaches is reduced.

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    • "This behaviour has also prevented contact with humans; thus, their presence is often unknown even to the people living close to the breeding colonies (Albores-Barajas et al., 2008, 2012; Massa, 2009). However, increasing human activity linked either to urban development or to tourism is having an enormous impact on breeding populations, with potentially catastrophic consequences for threatened and endangered species (Nisbet, 1981, 2000; Lishman, 1985; Culik et al., 1990; Culik and Wilson, 1991; Ellenberg et al., 2007; Seddon and Ellenberg, 2008; see also review by Carney and Sydeman, 1999). "
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    ABSTRACT: Human disturbance is an important stress factor with potentially strong impact on breeding activity in animals. The consequences can be extinction of the breeding population, because disturbed animals might desert their breeding area and find no suitable substitute area. In this study, we investigated the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on a breeding population of Mediterranean storm petrels. Seabirds are increasingly used as bio-indicators for sea environmental parameters, because they are very sensitive to changing conditions. Burrowing or cave-nesting species may be particularly susceptible to human disturbance because their direct contact with humans is usually minimal or absent. First, we compared two different populations (exposed or not exposed to human disturbance) for their individual stress response to a standardized stressor (handling and keeping in a cloth bag). Second, we compared the two sub-colonies for their population-level stress response. Third, we tested experimentally whether sub-colonies of storm petrels exposed to tourism have physiological adaptations to anthropogenic disturbances. Our results indicate that storm petrels may be habituated to moderate disturbance associated with boat traffic close to the colony.
    Conservation Physiology 09/2015; 3(1). DOI:10.1093/conphys/cov041
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    • "road kill, bycatch) may be immediately apparent; however, subtle and accumulating effects of human disturbance on susceptibility to disease, fertility, and life expectancy are currently not well understood. Human disturbance can alter hormonal stress response (Walker et al. 2005; Ellenberg et al. 2007) as well as energy budgets of adult birds (Ellenberg et al. 2013); reduce breeding success, fledgling weights, and subsequent first-year survival (McClung et al. 2004; Ellenberg et al. 2006, 2007); and defer prospecting pairs from establishing a nest in disturbed habitats (Hockey & Hallinan 1981). Stressful events may redirect an individual's behaviour towards survival rather than reproduction (Watanuki et al. 1993) consequently leading to temporary or even permanent nest abandonment (Wingfield et al. 1997). "
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    New Zealand Journal of Ecology 04/2015; 39(2). · 1.06 Impact Factor
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    • "While short-term elevations in GCs may be adaptive, by facilitating individuals to escape from life-threatening situations (Wingfield and Ramenofsky 1999; Sapolsky et al. 2000), increased production of GCs for long periods may have detrimental effects on individual fitness and population viability (Blas et al. 2007; Ellenberg et al. 2007; Bonier et al. 2009) by inhibiting growth, suppressing the immune system or inhibiting reproductive function (Sapolsky and Pulsinelli 1985). Although sometimes questioned (Busch and Hayward 2009; Boonstra 2013), faecal GC measurements (FGCM) have been recently used in ecological and conservation studies as indices of physiological stress to monitor the impact of environmental changes, both natural and anthropogenic (Thiel et al. 2008; Busch and Hayward 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: Habitat loss and fragmentation inevitably cause biodiversity decline, a major concern for the conservation of endangered species. Primates are of particular interest, because they are highly vulnerable to forest fragmentation. In this study, we investigated faecal glucocorticoid measurements (FGCM), an indicator of physiological stress, in an endemic and IUCN-endangered monkey species inhabiting forest blocks in the Udzungwa Mountains in south-central Tanzania. The Udzungwa red colobus (Procolobus gordonorum) is threatened by hunting, and habitat degradation and loss due to agricultural expansion. They are highly folivorous, more abundant at lower elevations, but able to persist in extremely small forest blocks. We collected faecal samples in four forest blocks that differed in size, level of human impact (hunting and past logging activities) and ecological factors to examine the potential influence on stress hormone output. Across all four forests, we did not find any clear effect on FGCM levels of the variables considered, apart from elevation. Red colobus had higher FGCM levels at lower elevations, where their seemingly optimal habitat occurs, but concomitantly where greater human disturbance is found. Although our results should be interpreted with caution and confirmed with further study, we suggest that this species is not negatively influenced by a moderate level of human activity, consistent with ecological modelling data.
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