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1.  Stress-Induced Tradeoffs in a Free-Living Lizard across a Variable Landscape: Consequences for Individuals and Populations 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49895.
Current life history theory suggests that the allocation of energetic resources between competing physiological needs should be dictated by an individual’s longevity and pace of life. One key physiological pathway likely to contribute to the partitioning of resources is the vertebrate stress response. By increasing circulating glucocorticoids the stress response can exert a suite of physiological effects, such as altering immune function. We investigated the effects of stress physiology on individual immunity, reproduction and oxidative stress, across an urban landscape. We sampled populations in and around St. George, Utah, examining corticosterone in response to restraint stress, two innate immune measures, reproductive output, and the presence of both reactive oxygen metabolites and antioxidant binding capacity, in populations of common side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana) experiencing variable levels of environmental stress. Additionally, using capture-mark-recapture techniques, we examined the relationships between these physiological parameters and population-level differences. Our results reveal elevated physiological stress corresponds with suppressed immunity and increased oxidative stress. Interestingly, urban populations experiencing the most physiological stress also exhibited greater reproductive output and decreased survival relative to rural populations experiencing less physiological stress, demonstrating a tradeoff between reproduction and life maintenance processes. Our results suggest that environmental stress may augment life history strategy in this fast-paced species, and that shifts in life history strategy can in turn affect the population at large. Finally, the urban environment poses definite challenges for organisms, and while it appears that side-blotched lizards are adjusting physiologically, it is unknown what fitness costs these physiological adjustments accrue.
PMCID: PMC3502225  PMID: 23185478
2.  Corticosterone stimulates hatching of late-term tree lizard embryos. 
The regulation of hatching in oviparous animals is important for successful reproduction and survival, but is poorly understood. We unexpectedly found that RU-486, a progesterone and glucocorticoid antagonist, interferes with hatching of viable tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus) embryos in a dose-dependent manner and hypothesized that embryonic glucocorticoids regulate hatching. To test this hypothesis, we treated eggs with corticosterone (CORT) or vehicle on Day 30 (85%) of incubation, left other eggs untreated, and observed relative hatch order and hatch time. In one study, the CORT egg hatched first in 9 of 11 clutches. In a second study, the CORT egg hatched first in 9 of 12 clutches, before vehicle-treated eggs in 10 of 12 clutches, and before untreated eggs in 7 of 9 clutches. On average, CORT eggs hatched 18.2h before vehicle-treated eggs and 11.6h before untreated eggs. Thus, CORT accelerates hatching of near-term embryos and RU-486 appears to block this effect. CORT may mobilize energy substrates that fuel hatching and/or accelerate lung development, and may provide a mechanism by which stressed embryos escape environmental stressors.
PMCID: PMC1885679  PMID: 17208477
development; glucocorticoids; oviparous; reproduction; Urosaurus ornatus; stress
3.  Phylogeography and Population Genetic Structure of the Ornate Dragon Lizard, Ctenophorus ornatus 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46351.
Species inhabiting ancient, geologically stable landscapes that have been impacted by agriculture and urbanisation are expected to have complex patterns of genetic subdivision due to the influence of both historical and contemporary gene flow. Here, we investigate genetic differences among populations of the granite outcrop-dwelling lizard Ctenophorus ornatus, a phenotypically variable species with a wide geographical distribution across the south-west of Western Australia. Phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequence data revealed two distinct evolutionary lineages that have been isolated for more than four million years within the C. ornatus complex. This evolutionary split is associated with a change in dorsal colouration of the lizards from deep brown or black to reddish-pink. In addition, analysis of microsatellite data revealed high levels of genetic structuring within each lineage, as well as strong isolation by distance at multiple spatial scales. Among the 50 outcrop populations’ analysed, non-hierarchical Bayesian clustering analysis revealed the presence of 23 distinct genetic groups, with outcrop populations less than 4 km apart usually forming a single genetic group. When a hierarchical analysis was carried out, almost every outcrop was assigned to a different genetic group. Our results show there are multiple levels of genetic structuring in C. ornatus, reflecting the influence of both historical and contemporary evolutionary processes. They also highlight the need to recognise the presence of two evolutionarily distinct lineages when making conservation management decisions on this species.
PMCID: PMC3462208  PMID: 23049697
4.  Lizards from Urban Areas Are More Asymmetric: Using Fluctuating Asymmetry to Evaluate Environmental Disturbance 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e84190.
The increase in human activities that leads to wildlife decline and species extinction poses an urgent need for simple indicators of environmental stress in animal populations. Several studies have suggested that fluctuating asymmetry (FA) can be an easy, direct measure of developmental instability because it is associated to environmental stress and, as such, it can be a useful indicator of population disturbance. We examined three different morphological traits in urban and rural populations of the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) to test whether anthropogenic disturbance causes an increase in FA. Compared to rural populations, urban ones showed higher levels of FA in all analyzed traits, thus providing evidence that FA can respond to anthropogenic disturbance. However, we also found significant differences in FA among traits, where femoral pores and subdigital lamellae, traits with a functional relevance, were more stable developmentally compared to supracilliar granules which have no evident function. Unsigned FA [abs(right-left)] exhibited significant, but weak, positive correlations among traits, indicating that developmental noise does not have a uniform effect across characters and thus questioning the view of developmental stability as an organism-wide property. The degree of signed FA (right-left) was more similar between structurally associated traits, possibly as an outcome of morphological integration. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that FA can be a reliable indicator of disturbance provided that it is analyzed on multiple traits simultaneously and examined at the population level.
PMCID: PMC3873971  PMID: 24386350
5.  A Non-Invasive Stress Assay Shows That Tadpole Populations Infected with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis Have Elevated Corticosterone Levels 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56054.
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is a fungus that causes the disease chytridiomycosis and is associated with widespread amphibian declines. Populations vary in their susceptibility to Bd infections, and the virulence of the infecting lineage can also vary. Both of these factors may manifest as a differential physiological stress response. In addition, variation in disease susceptibility across amphibian populations may be influenced by immunosuppression caused by chronic stress imposed by environmental factors. Here, we use a non-invasive water-borne hormone technique to assess stress levels (corticosterone) of free-living tadpole populations that are infected by Bd. We found that corticosterone release rates were higher in infected populations of two species of tadpoles (Alytes obstetricans and A. muletensis) than in an uninfected population for both species. The relationship between corticosterone and the intensity of infection differed between species, with only the infected A. obstetricans population showing a significant positive correlation. The higher corticosterone release rates found in A. obstetricans may be an outcome of infection by a highly virulent lineage of Bd (BdGPL), whereas A. muletensis is infected with a less virulent lineage (BdCAPE). These results suggest that different lineages of Bd impose different levels of stress on the infected animals, and that this may influence survival. The next step is to determine whether higher corticosterone levels make individuals more susceptible to Bd or if Bd infections drive the higher corticosterone levels.
PMCID: PMC3572145  PMID: 23418508
6.  Independent colonization of multiple urban centres by a formerly forest specialist bird species 
Urban areas are expanding rapidly, but a few native species have successfully colonized them. The processes underlying such colonization events are poorly understood. Using the blackbird Turdus merula, a former forest specialist that is now one of the most common urban birds in its range, we provide the first assessment of two contrasting urban colonization models. First, that urbanization occurred independently. Second, that following initial urbanization, urban-adapted individuals colonized other urban areas in a leapfrog manner. Previous analyses of spatial patterns in the timing of blackbird urbanization, and experimental introductions of urban and rural blackbirds to uncolonized cities, suggest that the leapfrog model is likely to apply. We found that, across the western Palaearctic, urban blackbird populations contain less genetic diversity than rural ones, urban populations are more strongly differentiated from each other than from rural populations and assignment tests support a rural source population for most urban individuals. In combination, these results provide much stronger support for the independent urbanization model than the leapfrog one. If the former model predominates, colonization of multiple urban centres will be particularly difficult when urbanization requires genetic adaptations, having implications for urban species diversity.
PMCID: PMC2691005  PMID: 19364751
colonization; dispersal; genetic divergence; genetic diversity; range expansion; urban
7.  Boldness behavior and stress physiology in a novel urban environment suggest rapid correlated evolutionary adaptation 
Behavioral Ecology  2012;23(5):960-969 .
Novel or changing environments expose animals to diverse stressors that likely require coordinated hormonal and behavioral adaptations. Predicted adaptations to urban environments include attenuated physiological responses to stressors and bolder exploratory behaviors, but few studies to date have evaluated the impact of urban life on codivergence of these hormonal and behavioral traits in natural systems. Here, we demonstrate rapid adaptive shifts in both stress physiology and correlated boldness behaviors in a songbird, the dark-eyed junco, following its colonization of a novel urban environment. We compared elevation in corticosterone (CORT) in response to handling and flight initiation distances in birds from a recently established urban population in San Diego, California to birds from a nearby wildland population in the species' ancestral montane breeding range. We also measured CORT and exploratory behavior in birds raised from early life in a captive common garden study. We found persistent population differences for both reduced CORT responses and bolder exploratory behavior in birds from the colonist population, as well as significant negative covariation between maximum CORT and exploratory behavior. Although early developmental effects cannot be ruled out, these results suggest contemporary adaptive evolution of correlated hormonal and behavioral traits associated with colonization of an urban habitat.
PMCID: PMC3431113  PMID: 22936840
adaptation; boldness; corticosterone; evolution; junco; urbanization
8.  A Rapid, Strong, and Convergent Genetic Response to Urban Habitat Fragmentation in Four Divergent and Widespread Vertebrates 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(9):e12767.
Urbanization is a major cause of habitat fragmentation worldwide. Ecological and conservation theory predicts many potential impacts of habitat fragmentation on natural populations, including genetic impacts. Habitat fragmentation by urbanization causes populations of animals and plants to be isolated in patches of suitable habitat that are surrounded by non-native vegetation or severely altered vegetation, asphalt, concrete, and human structures. This can lead to genetic divergence between patches and in turn to decreased genetic diversity within patches through genetic drift and inbreeding.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We examined population genetic patterns using microsatellites in four common vertebrate species, three lizards and one bird, in highly fragmented urban southern California. Despite significant phylogenetic, ecological, and mobility differences between these species, all four showed similar and significant reductions in gene flow over relatively short geographic and temporal scales. For all four species, the greatest genetic divergence was found where development was oldest and most intensive. All four animals also showed significant reduction in gene flow associated with intervening roads and freeways, the degree of patch isolation, and the time since isolation.
Despite wide acceptance of the idea in principle, evidence of significant population genetic changes associated with fragmentation at small spatial and temporal scales has been rare, even in smaller terrestrial vertebrates, and especially for birds. Given the striking pattern of similar and rapid effects across four common and widespread species, including a volant bird, intense urbanization may represent the most severe form of fragmentation, with minimal effective movement through the urban matrix.
PMCID: PMC2940822  PMID: 20862274
9.  Elevated Plasma Corticosterone Decreases Yolk Testosterone and Progesterone in Chickens: Linking Maternal Stress and Hormone-Mediated Maternal Effects 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23824.
Despite considerable research on hormone-mediated maternal effects in birds, the underlying physiology remains poorly understood. This study investigated a potential regulation mechanism for differential accumulation of gonadal hormones in bird eggs. Across vertebrates, glucocorticoids can suppress reproduction by downregulating gonadal hormones. Using the chicken as a model species, we therefore tested whether elevated levels of plasma corticosterone in female birds influence the production of gonadal steroids by the ovarian follicles and thus the amount of reproductive hormones in the egg yolk. Adult laying hens of two different strains (ISA brown and white Leghorn) were implanted subcutaneously with corticosterone pellets that elevated plasma corticosterone concentrations over a period of nine days. Steroid hormones were subsequently quantified in plasma and yolk. Corticosterone-implanted hens of both strains had lower plasma progesterone and testosterone levels and their yolks contained less progesterone and testosterone. The treatment also reduced egg and yolk mass. Plasma estrogen concentrations decreased in white Leghorns only whereas in both strains yolk estrogens were unaffected. Our results demonstrate for the first time that maternal plasma corticosterone levels influence reproductive hormone concentrations in the yolk. Maternal corticosterone could therefore mediate environmentally induced changes in yolk gonadal hormone concentrations. In addition, stressful situations experienced by the bird mother might affect the offspring via reduced amounts of reproductive hormones present in the egg as well as available nutrients for the embryo.
PMCID: PMC3160319  PMID: 21886826
10.  Carotenoid-Based Colours Reflect the Stress Response in the Common Lizard 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5111.
Under chronic stress, carotenoid-based colouration has often been shown to fade. However, the ecological and physiological mechanisms that govern colouration still remain largely unknown. Colour changes may be directly induced by the stressor (for example through reduced carotenoid intake) or due to the activation of the physiological stress response (PSR, e.g. due to increased blood corticosterone concentrations). Here, we tested whether blood corticosterone concentration affected carotenoid-based colouration, and whether a trade-off between colouration and PSR existed. Using the common lizard (Lacerta vivipara), we correlatively and experimentally showed that elevated blood corticosterone levels are associated with increased redness of the lizard's belly. In this study, the effects of corticosterone did not depend on carotenoid ingestion, indicating the absence of a trade-off between colouration and PSR for carotenoids. While carotenoid ingestion increased blood carotenoid concentration, colouration was not modified. This suggests that carotenoid-based colouration of common lizards is not severely limited by dietary carotenoid intake.
Together with earlier studies, these findings suggest that the common lizard's carotenoid-based colouration may be a composite trait, consisting of fixed (e.g. genetic) and environmentally elements, the latter reflecting the lizard's PSR.
PMCID: PMC2663031  PMID: 19352507
11.  Spreading free-riding snow sports represent a novel serious threat for wildlife 
Stress generated by humans on wildlife by continuous development of outdoor recreational activities is of increasing concern for biodiversity conservation. Human disturbance often adds to other negative impact factors affecting the dynamics of vulnerable populations. It is not known to which extent the rapidly spreading free-riding snow sports actually elicit detrimental stress (allostatic overload) upon wildlife, nor what the potential associated fitness and survival costs are. Using a non-invasive technique, we evaluated the physiological stress response induced by free-riding snow sports on a declining bird species of Alpine ecosystems. The results of a field experiment in which radiomonitored black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) were actively flushed from their snow burrows once a day during four consecutive days showed an increase in the concentration of faecal stress hormone (corticosterone) metabolites after disturbance. A large-scale comparative analysis across the southwestern Swiss Alps indicated that birds had higher levels of these metabolites in human-disturbed versus undisturbed habitats. Disturbance by snow sport free-riders appears to elevate stress, which potentially represents a new serious threat for wildlife. The fitness and survival costs of allostatic adjustments have yet to be estimated.
PMCID: PMC2189568  PMID: 17341459
stress ecology; conservation biology; species protection; alpine ecosystems; human disturbance; winter snow sports
12.  Experimental Chronic Noise Is Related to Elevated Fecal Corticosteroid Metabolites in Lekking Male Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50462.
There is increasing evidence that individuals in many species avoid areas exposed to chronic anthropogenic noise, but the impact of noise on those who remain in these habitats is unclear. One potential impact is chronic physiological stress, which can affect disease resistance, survival and reproductive success. Previous studies have found evidence of elevated stress-related hormones (glucocorticoids) in wildlife exposed to human activities, but the impacts of noise alone are difficult to separate from confounding factors. Here we used an experimental playback study to isolate the impacts of noise from industrial activity (natural gas drilling and road noise) on glucocorticoid levels in greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), a species of conservation concern. We non-invasively measured immunoreactive corticosterone metabolites from fecal samples (FCMs) of males on both noise-treated and control leks (display grounds) in two breeding seasons. We found strong support for an impact of noise playback on stress levels, with 16.7% higher mean FCM levels in samples from noise leks compared with samples from paired control leks. Taken together with results from a previous study finding declines in male lek attendance in response to noise playbacks, these results suggest that chronic noise pollution can cause greater sage-grouse to avoid otherwise suitable habitat, and can cause elevated stress levels in the birds who remain in noisy areas.
PMCID: PMC3502302  PMID: 23185627
13.  The effect of exogenous corticosterone on West Nile virus infection in Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) 
Veterinary Research  2012;43(1):34.
The relationship between stress and disease is thought to be unambiguous: chronic stress induces immunosuppression, which likely increases the risk of infection. However, this link has not been firmly established in wild animals, particularly whether stress hormones affect host responses to zoonotic pathogens, which can be transmitted to domesticated animal, wildlife and human populations. Due to the dynamic effects of stress hormones on immune functions, stress hormones may make hosts better or poorer amplifying hosts for a pathogen contingent on context and the host species evaluated. Using an important zoonotic pathogen, West Nile virus (WNV) and a competent host, the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), we tested the effects of exogenous corticosterone on response to WNV infection. Corticosterone was administered at levels that individuals enduring chronic stressors (i.e., long-term inclement weather, food shortage, anthropogenic pollution) might experience in the wild. Corticosterone greatly impacted mortality: half of the corticosterone-implanted cardinals died between five - 11 days post-inoculation whereas only one of nine empty-implanted (control) birds died. No differences were found in viral titer between corticosterone- and empty-implanted birds. However, cardinals that survived infections had significantly higher average body temperatures during peak infection than individuals that died. In sum, this study indicates that elevated corticosterone could affect the survival of WNV-infected wild birds, suggesting that populations may be disproportionately at-risk to disease in stressful environments.
PMCID: PMC3372427  PMID: 22520572
14.  Signatures of Rapid Evolution in Urban and Rural Transcriptomes of White-Footed Mice (Peromyscus leucopus) in the New York Metropolitan Area 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e74938.
Urbanization is a major cause of ecological degradation around the world, and human settlement in large cities is accelerating. New York City (NYC) is one of the oldest and most urbanized cities in North America, but still maintains 20% vegetation cover and substantial populations of some native wildlife. The white-footed mouse, Peromyscusleucopus, is a common resident of NYC’s forest fragments and an emerging model system for examining the evolutionary consequences of urbanization. In this study, we developed transcriptomic resources for urban P. leucopus to examine evolutionary changes in protein-coding regions for an exemplar “urban adapter.” We used Roche 454 GS FLX+ high throughput sequencing to derive transcriptomes from multiple tissues from individuals across both urban and rural populations. From these data, we identified 31,015 SNPs and several candidate genes potentially experiencing positive selection in urban populations of P. leucopus. These candidate genes are involved in xenobiotic metabolism, innate immune response, demethylation activity, and other important biological phenomena in novel urban environments. This study is one of the first to report candidate genes exhibiting signatures of directional selection in divergent urban ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3756007  PMID: 24015321
15.  The Role and Mechanisms of Action of Glucocorticoid Involvement in Memory Storage 
Neural Plasticity  1998;6(3):41-52.
Adrenal steroid hormones modulate learning and memory processes by interacting with specific glucocorticoid receptors at different brain areas. In this article, certain components of the physiological response to stress elicited by learning situations are proposed to form an integral aspect of the neurobiological mechanism underlying memory formation. By reviewing the work carried out in different learning models in chicks (passive avoidance learning) and rats (spatial orientation in the Morris water maze and contextual fear conditioning), a role for brain corticosterone action through the glucocorticoid receptor type on the mechanisms of memory consolidation is hypothesized. Evidence is also presented to relate post-training corticosterone levels to the strength of memory storage. Finally, the possible molecular mechanisms that might mediate the influences of glucocorticoids in synaptic plasticity subserving long-term memory formation are considered, mainly by focusing on studies implicating a steroid action through (i) glutamatergic transmission and (ii) cell adhesion molecules.
PMCID: PMC2565310  PMID: 9920681
16.  Influence of Urbanization on Demography of Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) in the Prairies of North America 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20483.
We address three key gaps in research on urban wildlife ecology: insufficient attention to (1) grassland biomes, (2) individual- and population-level effects, and (3) vertebrates other than birds. We hypothesized that urbanization in the North American Prairies, by increasing habitat complexity (via the proliferation of vertical structures such as trees and buildings), thereby enhancing the availability of day-roosts, tree cover, and insects, would benefit synanthropic bats, resulting in increased fitness among urban individuals.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Over three years, we captured more than 1,600 little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) in urban and non-urban riparian sites in and around Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This species dominated bat assemblages throughout our study area, but nowhere more so than in the city. Our data did not support most of our specific predictions. Increased numbers of urban bats did not reflect urbanization-related benefits such as enhanced body condition, reproductive rates, or successful production of juveniles. Instead, bats did best in the transition zone situated between strictly urban and rural areas.
We reject our hypothesis and explore various explanations. One possibility is that urban and rural M. lucifugus exhibit increased use of anthropogenic roosts, as opposed to natural ones, leading to larger maternity colonies and higher population densities and, in turn, increased competition for insect prey. Other possibilities include increased stress, disease transmission and/or impacts of noise on urban bats. Whatever the proximate cause, the combination of greater bat population density with decreased body condition and production of juveniles indicates that Calgary does not represent a population source for Prairie bats. We studied a highly synanthropic species in a system where it could reasonably be expected to respond positively to urbanization, but failed to observe any apparent benefits at the individual level, leading us to propose that urban development may be universally detrimental to bats.
PMCID: PMC3154510  PMID: 21857890
17.  The Adrenocortical Response of Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) to Capture, ACTH Injection, and Confinement, as Measured in Fecal Samples 
Investigators of wildlife populations often utilize demographic indicators to understand the relationship between habitat characteristics and population viability. Assessments of corticosterone may enable earlier detection of populations at risk of decline because physiological adjustments to habitat disturbance occur before reproductive diminutions. Noninvasive methods to accomplish these assesments are important in species of concern, such as the greater sage grouse (GRSG). Therefore, we validated a radioimmunoassay that measures immunoreactive corticosterone metabolites (ICM) in fecal samples and used it to characterize the adrenocortical response of 15 GRSG exposed to capture, intravenous injection of 50 IU/kg adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) or saline, and 22 h of confinement. Those animals injected with ACTH exhibited a more sustained (P = 0.0139) and less variable (P = 0.0012) response than those injected with saline, indicating different levels of adrenocortical activity. We also found that potential field-collection protocols of fecal samples did not alter ICM concentrations: samples held at 4°C for up to 16 h contained similar levels of ICM as those frozen (−20°C) immediately. This study demonstrates a multiphasic adrenocortical response that varied with the level of stimulation and indicates that the assay used to measure this phenomenon is applicable for studies of wild GRSG.
PMCID: PMC2666624  PMID: 19199814
18.  Simplification of Arboreal Marsupial Assemblages in Response to Increasing Urbanization 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91049.
Arboreal marsupials play an essential role in ecosystem function including regulating insect and plant populations, facilitating pollen and seed dispersal and acting as a prey source for higher-order carnivores in Australian environments. Primarily, research has focused on their biology, ecology and response to disturbance in forested and urban environments. We used presence-only species distribution modelling to understand the relationship between occurrences of arboreal marsupials and eco-geographical variables, and to infer habitat suitability across an urban gradient. We used post-proportional analysis to determine whether increasing urbanization affected potential habitat for arboreal marsupials. The key eco-geographical variables that influenced disturbance intolerant species and those with moderate tolerance to disturbance were natural features such as tree cover and proximity to rivers and to riparian vegetation, whereas variables for disturbance tolerant species were anthropogenic-based (e.g., road density) but also included some natural characteristics such as proximity to riparian vegetation, elevation and tree cover. Arboreal marsupial diversity was subject to substantial change along the gradient, with potential habitat for disturbance-tolerant marsupials distributed across the complete gradient and potential habitat for less tolerant species being restricted to the natural portion of the gradient. This resulted in highly-urbanized environments being inhabited by a few generalist arboreal marsupial species. Increasing urbanization therefore leads to functional simplification of arboreal marsupial assemblages, thus impacting on the ecosystem services they provide.
PMCID: PMC3946675  PMID: 24608165
19.  Inter-Individual Variability in Fear of Humans and Relative Brain Size of the Species Are Related to Contemporary Urban Invasion in Birds 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e18859.
Urbanization is the most prevailing cause of habitat transformation worldwide, differing from others by its intense levels of human activity. Despite its obvious impact on wildlife, it is still unclear why and how some species are able to adapt to urban settings. One possibility is that fear of humans and vehicles could preclude most species from invading cities. Species entering urban environments might be those that are more tolerant of human disturbance (i.e., tame species). Alternatively or in addition, urban invaders could be a fraction of variable species, with “tame” individuals invading urban habitats and other individuals remaining in rural areas.
Using the contemporary urban invasion by birds in a recently established South American city, we tested both hypotheses by relating interspecific differences in invasiveness to their flight initiation distances (i.e., the distances at which birds flee from approaching cars, FID), as well as to their relative brain size (RBS), a correlate of measures of behavioral flexibility.
Principal Findings
Urban invasiveness was not significantly related to species' average rural FIDs but positively related to their RBS and inter-individual variability in FID. Moreover, FIDs were consistently lower in urban than in rural conspecifics, and the FIDs of urban individuals were within the lower-range distribution of their rural conspecifics. RBS indirectly influenced urban invasion through its positive effect on inter-individual variability in FID.
Urban invaders do not appear to be individuals from apparently tame species, but rather tame individuals from species with a variable response regarding fear of people. Given the positive relationship between RBS and inter-individual variability in FID, our results suggest that behavioural flexibility should be regarded as a specific trait encompassing variability among individuals. Further research is needed to ascertain the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the relationship between brain size and inter-individual variability in behavioural traits.
PMCID: PMC3079730  PMID: 21526193
20.  Can faecal glucocorticoid metabolites be used to monitor body condition in wild Upland geese Chloephaga picta leucoptera? 
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology  2011;65(7):1491-1498.
The measurement of faecal glucocorticoid metabolites is used as a non-invasive technique to study stress in animal populations. They have been used most widely in mammals, and mammalian studies have also treated issues such as sample stability and storage methods. In birds, faecal corticosterone metabolite (CM) assays have been validated for a small number of species, and adequate storage under field conditions has not been addressed explicitly in previous studies. Furthermore, while it is well-established that baseline plasma corticosterone levels in birds rise with declining body condition, no study so far investigated if this relationship is also reflected in faecal samples. We here present data of a field study in wild Upland geese Chloephaga picta leucoptera on the Falkland Islands, testing different storage methods and investigating the relationship of faecal CM concentrations to body condition and reproductive parameters. We found that faecal CM measures are significantly repeatable within individuals, higher in individuals with lower body condition in both male and female wild Upland geese and higher in later breeding females with smaller broods. These results suggest that measuring faecal CM values may be a valuable non-invasive tool to monitor the relative condition or health of individuals and populations, especially in areas where there still is intense hunting practice.
PMCID: PMC3115049  PMID: 21765584
Upland goose; Chloephaga picta leucoptera; Stress; Body condition; Faecal glucocorticoid metabolites
21.  Membrane Mineralocorticoid but not Glucocorticoid Receptors of the Dorsal Hippocampus Mediate the Rapid Effects of Corticosterone on Memory Retrieval 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2011;36(13):2639-2649.
This study was aimed at determining the type of the glucocorticoid membrane receptors (mineralocorticoid receptors (MRs) or glucocorticoid receptors (GRs)) in the dorsal hippocampus (dHPC) involved in the rapid effects of corticosterone or stress on memory retrieval. For that purpose, we synthesized corticosterone–3-O-carboxymethyloxime–bovine serum albumin conjugate (Cort–3CMO–BSA) conjugate (a high MW complex that cannot cross the cell membrane) totally devoid of free corticosterone, stable in physiological conditions. In a first experiment, we evidenced that an acute stress (electric footshocks) induced both a dHPC corticosterone rise measured by microdialysis and memory retrieval impairment on delayed alternation task. Both the endocrinal and cognitive effects of stress were blocked by metyrapone (a corticosterone synthesis inhibitor). In a second experiment, we showed that bilateral injections of either corticosterone or Cort–3CMO–BSA in dHPC 15 min before memory testing produced impairments similar to those resulting from acute stress. Furthermore, we showed that anisomycin (a protein synthesis inhibitor) failed to block the deleterious effect of Cort–3CMO–BSA on memory. In a third experiment, we evidenced that intra-hippocampal injection of RU-28318 (MR antagonist) but not of RU-38486 (GR antagonist) totally blocked the Cort–3CMO–BSA-induced memory retrieval deficit. In a fourth experiment, we demonstrated that RU-28318 administered 15 min before stress blocked the stress-induced memory impairments when behavioral testing occurred 15 min but not 60 min after stress. Overall, this study provides strong in vivo evidence that the dHPC membrane GRs, mediating the rapid and non-genomic effects of acute stress on memory retrieval, are of MR but not GR type.
PMCID: PMC3230488  PMID: 21814189
membrane glucocorticoid receptors; hippocampus; corticosterone; Cort–BSA; stress; memory retrieval; neuropharmacology; learning & memory; psychopharmacology; mood/anxiety/stress disorders; hippocampus; membranar glucocorticoids receptors; memory retrieval; RU-38486; RU-28318
22.  The role of colour in signalling and male choice in the agamid lizard Ctenophorus ornatus. 
Bright coloration and complex visual displays are frequent and well described in many lizard families. Reflectance spectrometry which extends into the ultraviolet (UV) allows measurement of such coloration independent of our visual system. We examined the role of colour in signalling and mate choice in the agamid lizard Ctenophorus ornatus. We found that throat reflectance strongly contrasted against the granite background of the lizards' habitat. The throat may act as a signal via the head-bobbing and push-up displays of C. ornatus. Dorsal coloration provided camouflage against the granite background, particularly in females. C. ornatus was sexually dichromatic for all traits examined including throat UV reflectance which is beyond human visual perception. Female throats were highly variable in spectral reflectance and males preferred females with higher throat chroma between 370 and 400 nm. However, female throat UV chroma is strongly correlated to both throat brightness and chest UV chroma and males may choose females on a combination of these colour variables. There was no evidence that female throat or chest coloration was an indicator of female quality. However, female brightness significantly predicted a female's laying date and, thus, may signal receptivity. One function of visual display in this species appears to be intersexual signalling, resulting in male choice of females.
PMCID: PMC1690562  PMID: 10737400
23.  Song convergence in multiple urban populations of silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) 
Ecology and Evolution  2012;2(8):1977-1984.
Recent studies have revealed differences between urban and rural vocalizations of numerous bird species. These differences include frequency shifts, amplitude shifts, altered song speed, and selective meme use. If particular memes sung by urban populations are adapted to the urban soundscape, “urban-typical” calls, memes, or repertoires should be consistently used in multiple urban populations of the same species, regardless of geographic location. We tested whether songs or contact calls of silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) might be subject to such convergent cultural evolution by comparing syllable repertoires of geographically dispersed urban and rural population pairs throughout southeastern Australia. Despite frequency and tempo differences between urban and rural calls, call repertoires were similar between habitat types. However, certain song syllables were used more frequently by birds from urban than rural populations. Partial redundancy analysis revealed that both geographic location and habitat characteristics were important predictors of syllable repertoire composition. These findings suggest convergent cultural evolution: urban populations modify both song and call syllables from their local repertoire in response to noise.
PMCID: PMC3434000  PMID: 22957198
Acoustic adaptation; cultural evolution; silvereyes; song dialects; urban noise; Zosterops lateralis
24.  Stress hormones and sociality: integrating social and environmental stressors 
In cooperatively breeding species, reproductive decisions and breeding roles may be influenced by environmental (food resources) or social factors (reproductive suppression of subordinates by dominants). Studies of glucocorticoid stress hormones in cooperatively breeding species suggest that breeding roles and hormone levels are related to the relative costs of dominance and subordination, which are driven primarily by social interactions. Few studies, however, have considered how environmental factors affect glucocorticoid levels and breeding roles in cooperative breeders, even though environmental stressors modulate seasonal glucocorticoid release and often influence breeding roles. I examined baseline and stress-induced levels of the glucocorticoid corticosterone (CORT) across 4 years in the plural breeding superb starling, Lamprotornis superbus, to determine whether (i) environmental factors (namely rainfall) directly influence breeding roles or (ii) environmental factors influence social interactions, which in turn drive breeding roles. Chronic baseline and maximal stress-induced CORT changed significantly across years as a function of pre-breeding rainfall, but dominant and subordinate individuals responded differently. Pre-breeding rainfall was also correlated directly with breeding roles. The results are most consistent with the hypothesis that environmental conditions influenced the relative costs of dominance and subordination, which in turn affected the degree and intensity of social interactions and ultimately reproductive decisions and breeding roles.
PMCID: PMC2141667  PMID: 17251100
glucocorticoids; corticosterone; allostasis; allostatic load; cooperative breeding; reproductive conflict
25.  Is It Easy to Be Urban? Convergent Success in Urban Habitats among Lineages of a Widespread Native Ant 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e9194.
The most rapidly expanding habitat globally is the urban habitat, yet the origin and life histories of the populations of native species that inhabit this habitat remain poorly understood. We use DNA barcoding of the COI gene in the widespread native pest ant Tapinoma sessile to test two hypotheses regarding the origin of urban populations and traits associated with their success. First, we determine if urban samples of T. sessile have a single origin from natural populations by looking at patterns of haplotype clustering from across their range. Second, we examine whether polygynous colony structure – a trait associated with invasion success – is correlated with urban environments, by studying the lineage dependence of colony structure. Our phylogenetic analysis of 49 samples identified four well supported geographic clades. Within clades, Kimura-2 parameter pairwise genetic distances revealed <2.3% variation; however, between clade genetic distances were 7.5–10.0%, suggesting the possibility of the presence of cryptic species. Our results indicate that T. sessile has successfully colonized urban environments multiple times. Additionally, polygynous colony structure is a highly plastic trait across habitat, clade, and haplotype. In short, T. sessile has colonized urban habitats repeatedly and appears to do so using life history strategies already present in more natural populations. Whether similar results hold for other species found in urban habitats has scarcely begun to be considered.
PMCID: PMC2820551  PMID: 20169204

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