About the lab
We are an environmental physiology lab and are interested in the investigation of adaptations and responses of animals to extreme and changing environments. Projects are generally highly collaborative, interdisciplinary and contain both state of the art field and laboratory approaches.
Featured research (40)
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are lipophilic compounds that bioaccumulate in animals and biomagnify within food webs. Many POPs are endocrine disrupting compounds that impact vertebrate development. POPs accumulate in the Arctic via global distillation and thereby impact high trophic level vertebrates as well as people who live a subsistence lifestyle. The Arctic also contains thousands of point sources of pollution, such as formerly used defense (FUD) sites. Sivuqaq (St. Lawrence Island), Alaska was used by the U.S. military during the Cold War and FUD sites on the island remain point sources of POP contamination. We examined the effects of POP exposure on ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) collected from Troutman Lake in the village of Gambell as a model for human exposure and disease. During the Cold War, Troutman Lake was used as a dump site by the U.S. military. We found that PCB concentrations in stickleback exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline for unlimited consumption despite these fish being low trophic level organisms. We examined effects at three levels of biological organization: gene expression, endocrinology, and histomorphology. We found that ninespine stickleback from Troutman Lake exhibited suppressed gonadal development compared to threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) studied elsewhere. Troutman Lake stickleback also displayed two distinct hepatic phenotypes, one with lipid accumulation and one with glycogen-type vacuolation. We compared the transcriptomic profiles of these liver phenotypes using RNA sequencing and found significant upregulation of genes involved in ribosomal and metabolic pathways in the lipid accumulation group. Additionally, stickleback displaying liver lipid accumulation had significantly fewer thyroid follicles than the vacuolated phenotype. Our study and previous work highlight health concerns for people and wildlife due to pollution hotspots in the Arctic, and the need for health-protective remediation.
Reproductive costs must be balanced with survival to maximise lifetime reproductive rates; however, some organisms invest in a single, suicidal bout of breeding known as semelparity. The northern quoll ( Dasyurus hallucatus ) is an endangered marsupial in which males, but not females, are semelparous. Northern quolls living near mining sites on Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory, Australia, accumulate manganese (Mn) in their brains, testes, and hair, and elevated Mn impacts motor performance. Whether Mn is associated with other health declines is yet unknown. Here, we show that male and female northern quolls with higher Mn accumulation had a 20% reduction in immune function and a trend toward reduced cortisol concentrations in hair. The telomere lengths of male quolls did not change pre‐ to post‐breeding, but those with higher Mn levels had longer telomeres; in contrast, the telomeres of females shortened during the breeding season but recovered between the first year and second year of breeding. In addition, the telomeres of quolls that were re‐captured declined at significantly higher rates in quolls with higher Mn between pre‐breeding, breeding, and/or post‐breeding seasons. Future work should determine whether changes in cortisol, immune function, or telomere length affect reproductive output or survival—particularly for semelparous males.
Knowledge of baleen whales’ reproductive physiology is limited and requires long-term individual-based studies and innovative tools. We used 6 years of individual-level data on the Pacific Coast Feeding Group grey whales to evaluate the utility of faecal progesterone immunoassays and drone-based photogrammetry for regnancy diagnosis. We explored the variability in faecal progesterone metabolites and body morphology relative to observed reproductive status and estimated the pregnancy probability for mature females of unknown reproductive status using normal mixture models. Individual females had higher faecal progesterone concentrations when pregnant than when presumed nonpregnant. Yet, at the population level, high overlap and variability in progesterone metabolite concentrations occurred between pregnant and non-pregnant groups, limiting this metric for accurate pregnancy diagnosis in grey whales. Alternatively, body width at 50% of the total body length (W50) correctly discriminated pregnant from non-pregnant females at individual and population levels, with high accuracy. Application of the model using W50 metric to mature females of unknown pregnancy status identified eight additional pregnancies with high confidence. Our findings highlight the utility of drone-based photogrammetry to non-invasively diagnose pregnancy in this group of gray whales, and the potential for improved data on reproductive rates for population management of baleen whales generally.
Climate warming is rapid in the Arctic, yet impacts to biological systems are unclear because few long-term studies linking biophysiological processes with environmental conditions exist for this data-poor region. In our study spanning 25 years in the Alaskan Arctic, we demonstrate that climate change is affecting the timing of freeze-thaw cycles in the active layer of permafrost soils and altering the physiology of arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii). Soil freeze has been delayed and, in response, arctic ground squirrels have delayed when they up-regulate heat production during torpor to prevent freezing. Further, the termination of hibernation in spring has advanced 4 days per decade in females but not males. Continued warming and phenological shifts will alter hibernation energetics, change the seasonal availability of this important prey species, and potentially disrupt intraspecific interactions.
Synopsis Monitoring the physiology of small aquatic and marine teleost fish presents challenges. Blood samples, often the first choice for endocrinologists, can be difficult or even impossible to obtain and alternative matrices currently used for hormone analyses do not occur in fishes (e.g., hair, feathers etc.) or are not easily collected from small aquatic organisms (e.g., urine and feces). Some teleosts, however, have enlarged bony dermal elements that possibly accumulate and store steroid hormones in physiological relevant concentrations. Both threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) have a series of external, lateral bony plates, dorsal spines, and a pair of pelvic spines attached to the pelvic girdle. We investigated if cortisol, the primary circulating glucocorticoid in teleosts, could be extracted from stickleback dermal bone and quantified using a commercially available enzyme immunoassay (EIA). We successfully validated a cortisol EIA for dermal bone extracts, determined that cortisol was detectable in both species, and found that dermal bone cortisol levels significantly correlated with cortisol levels in whole body homogenate. Ninespine stickleback had significantly higher dermal bone cortisol concentrations than threespine stickleback and female threespine stickleback tended to have over twice the mean dermal bone cortisol concentration than males. Because both stickleback species are widely used for ecotoxicological studies, using dermal bone as a source of endocrine information, while leaving the body for contaminant, genomic, histological, and stable isotope analyses, could be a powerful and parsimonious tool. Further investigation and physiological validations are necessary to fully understand the utility of this new sample matrix.
- Department of Biological Sciences
About C. Loren Buck
- C. Loren Buck currently works at the Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University. C. Loren does research in Chronobiology, Endocrinology and Physiology. Their current project is 'Urea nitrogen salvage and the gut microbiota in arctic ground squirrels'.