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1.  Potential for local adaptation in response to an anthropogenic agent of selection: effects of road deicing salts on amphibian embryonic survival and development 
Evolutionary Applications  2012;6(2):384-392.
The application of millions of tons of road deicing salts every winter in North America presents significant survival challenges to amphibians inhabiting roadside habitats. While much is known of the effects of NaCl on anuran tadpoles, less is known of effects on amphibian eggs, or any caudate life stage. In addition, little is known of the effects of MgCl2, which is now the 2nd most commonly used road deicer. Most studies have considered amphibians to be helpless victims of deicing salts, and ignore the possibility of the evolution of local adaptation to this stressor. We attempt to address these knowledge gaps and explore this evolutionary potential by examining the effects of NaCl and MgCl2 on the survival and development of eggs from different female rough-skinned newts (Taricha granulosa) from the same population. We demonstrate that both salts, at environmentally relevant concentrations, severely affect the embryonic survival and development of this amphibian, but that the effects of the salt are dependent on the identity of the mother. This female × treatment interaction results in substantial variation in tolerance to road deicing salts among newt families, providing the raw material necessary for natural selection and the evolution of local adaptation in this amphibian.
PMCID: PMC3586626  PMID: 23467723
amphibian; egg; local adaptation; magnesium chloride; natural selection; road deicing salt; Taricha granulosa; variation
2.  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
3.  Interfamily variation in amphibian early life-history traits: raw material for natural selection? 
Ecology and Evolution  2012;2(7):1637-1643.
The embryonic development and time to hatching of eggs can be highly adaptive in some species, and thus under selective pressure. In this study, we examined the underlying interfamily variation in hatching timing and embryonic development in a population of an oviparous amphibian, the rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa). We found significant, high variability in degree of embryonic development and hatching timing among eggs from different females. Patterns of variation were present regardless of temperature. We also could not explain the differences among families by morphological traits of the females or their eggs. This study suggests that the variation necessary for natural selection to act upon is present in the early life history of this amphibian.
PMCID: PMC3434928  PMID: 22957168
Amphibian; egg; embryonic development; hatching; Salamandridae; Taricha granulosa; variation
4.  Improved ex vivo method for microbiocidal activity across vertebrate species 
Biology Open  2012;1(5):482-487.
The field of ecoimmunology is currently undergoing rapid expansion, whereby biologists from a wide range of ecological disciplines are increasingly interested in assessing immunocompetence in their study organisms. One of the key challenges to researchers is determining what eco-immune measures to use in a given experiment. Moreover, there are limitations depending on study species, requirements for specific antibodies, and relevance of the methodology to the study organism. Here we introduce an improved ex vivo method for microbiocidal activity across vertebrate species. The utility of this assay is that it determines the ability of an organism to remove a pathogen that could be encountered in the wild, lending ecological relevancy to the technique. The applications of this microbiocidal assay are broad, as it is readily adaptable to different types of microbes as well as a wide variety of study species. We describe a method of microbiocidal analysis that will enable researchers across disciplines to effectively employ this method to accurately quantify microbial killing ability, using readily available microplate absorbance readers.
PMCID: PMC3507210  PMID: 23213440
Ecoimmunology; Immunity; Bacteria; Complement activity
5.  An improved competitive inhibition enzymatic immunoassay method for tetrodotoxin quantification 
Quantifying tetrodotoxin (TTX) has been a challenge in both ecological and medical research due to the cost, time and training required of most quantification techniques. Here we present a modified Competitive Inhibition Enzymatic Immunoassay for the quantification of TTX, and to aid researchers in the optimization of this technique for widespread use with a high degree of accuracy and repeatability.
PMCID: PMC3337821  PMID: 22410273
Tetrodotoxin; CIEIA; HPLC
6.  Human disturbance alters endocrine and immune responses in the Galapagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) 
Hormones and behavior  2010;58(5):792-799.
Anthropogenic disturbance is a relevant and widespread facilitator of environmental change and there is clear evidence that it impacts natural populations. While population-level responses to major anthropogenic changes have been well studied, individual physiological responses to mild disturbance can be equally critical to the long-term survival of a species, yet they remain largely unexamined. The current study investigated the impact of seemingly low-level anthropogenic disturbance (ecotourism) on stress responsiveness and specific fitness-related immune measures in different breeding stages of the marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Specifically, we found stress-induced elevations in plasma corticosterone among tourist-exposed populations relative to undisturbed populations. We also found changes in multiple immunological responses associated with stress-related effects of human disturbance, including bacterial killing ability, cutaneous wound healing, and hemolytic complement activity, and the responses varied according to reproductive state. By identifying health-related consequences of human disturbance, this study provides critical insight into the conservation of a well-known species that has a very distinct ecology. The study also broadens the foundation of knowledge needed to understand the global significance of various levels of human disturbance.
PMCID: PMC2982938  PMID: 20708010
Corticosterone; reproduction; immunity; tourism
7.  Exogenous insulin enhances humoural immune responses in short-day, but not long-day, Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Many animals experience marked seasonal fluctuations in environmental conditions. In response, animals display adaptive alterations in physiology and behaviour, including seasonal changes in immune function. During winter, animals must reallocate finite energy stores from relatively costly, less exigent systems (e.g. reproduction and immunity) to systems critical for immediate survival (e.g. thermoregulation). Seasonal changes in immunity are probably mediated by neuroendocrine factors signalling current energetic state. One potential hormonal candidate is insulin, a metabolic hormone released in response to elevated blood glucose levels. The aim of the present study was to explore the potential role of insulin in signalling energy status to the immune system in a seasonally breeding animal, the Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus). Specifically, exogenous insulin was administered to male hamsters housed in either long ‘summer-like’ or short ‘winter-like’ days. Animals were then challenged with an innocuous antigen and immune responses were measured. Insulin treatment significantly enhanced humoural immune responses in short, but not long days. In addition, insulin treatment increased food intake and decreased blood glucose levels across photoperiodic treatments. Collectively, these data support the hypothesis that insulin acts as an endocrine signal integrating seasonal energetic changes and immune responses in seasonally breeding rodents.
PMCID: PMC2880144  PMID: 20236973
immunity; energy balance; insulin; antibody response
8.  Human Disturbance Influences Reproductive Success and Growth Rate in California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17686.
The environment is currently undergoing changes at both global (e.g., climate change) and local (e.g., tourism, pollution, habitat modification) scales that have the capacity to affect the viability of animal and plant populations. Many of these changes, such as human disturbance, have an anthropogenic origin and therefore may be mitigated by management action. To do so requires an understanding of the impact of human activities and changing environmental conditions on population dynamics. We investigated the influence of human activity on important life history parameters (reproductive rate, and body condition, and growth rate of neonate pups) for California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Increased human presence was associated with lower reproductive rates, which translated into reduced long-term population growth rates and suggested that human activities are a disturbance that could lead to population declines. We also observed higher body growth rates in pups with increased exposure to humans. Increased growth rates in pups may reflect a density dependent response to declining reproductive rates (e.g., decreased competition for resources). Our results highlight the potentially complex changes in life history parameters that may result from human disturbance, and their implication for population dynamics. We recommend careful monitoring of human activities in the Gulf of California and emphasize the importance of management strategies that explicitly consider the potential impact of human activities such as ecotourism on vertebrate populations.
PMCID: PMC3059216  PMID: 21436887
9.  The glutamate agonist, NMDA blocks gonadal regression and enhances antibody response to an immune challenge in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) 
Seasonal variation in behavior and physiology, including changes in immune function, are common. This variability is elicited by changes in photoperiod and often covaries with fluctuations in both energy reserves and reproductive state. It is unclear, however, whether changes in either variable alone drive seasonal changes in immunity. We investigated the relative contributions of reproduction and energy balance to changes in immune function. To accomplish this, we uncoupled seasonal changes in reproduction from those related to energy balance via daily injections of N-methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). NMDA is a glutamatergic agonist that blocks short-day induced gonadal regression while leaving short-day declines in body mass unaffected. In Experiment 1, we examined the effect of differing doses of NMDA on testosterone production as a proxy for NMDA effects on reproduction; a dose-dependent rise in testosterone was observed. In Experiment 2, animals were maintained on long or short days and received daily injections of NMDA. After eight weeks all animals underwent a humoral immune challenge. Short-day animals receiving daily injections of NMDA maintained long-day-like gonads, however contrary to our predictions, no trade-off between reproduction or energy balance and immune function was observed. Unexpectedly, NMDA treatment increased immunoglobulin levels in all groups, suggesting NMDA may provide an immunomodulatory signal, presumably through actions on peripheral glutamate receptors. These results support a previous finding that NMDA blocks reproductive regression. In addition, these findings demonstrate a general immunoenhancing effect of NMDA that appears independent of changes in reproductive or energetic state of the animal.
PMCID: PMC2809793  PMID: 19820951
10.  Food supplementation and testosterone interact to influence reproductive behavior and immune function in Sceloporous graciosus 
Hormones and behavior  2009;57(2):134.
The energetic resources in an organism’s environment are essential for executing a wide range of life history functions, including immunity and reproduction. Most energetic budgets, however, are limited, which can lead to trade-offs among competing functions. Increasing reproductive effort tends to decrease immunity in many cases; and increasing total energy via supplemental feedings can eliminate this effect. Testosterone (T), an important regulator of reproduction, and food availability are thus both potential factors regulating life-history processes, yet they are often tested in isolation of each other. In this study, we considered the effect of both food availability and elevated T on immune function and reproductive behavior in sagebrush lizards, Sceloporus graciosus, to assess how T and energy availability affect these trade-offs. We experimentally manipulated diet (via supplemental feedings) and T (via dermal patches) in males from a natural population. We determined innate immune response by calculating the bacterial killing capability of collected plasma exposed to E. coli ex vivo. We measured reproductive behavior by counting the number of courtship displays produced in a 20-min sampling period. We observed an interactive effect of food availability and T-patch on immune function, with food supplementation increasing immunity in T-patch lizards. Additionally, T increased courtship displays in control food lizards. Lizards with supplemental food had higher circulating T than controls. Collectively, this study shows that the energetic state of the animal plays a critical role in modulating the interactions among T, behavior and immunity in sagebrush lizards and likely other species.
PMCID: PMC2814879  PMID: 19800885
Context-dependent; Energy allocation; Innate immunity; Life history; Resources; Sceloporus; Trade-offs
11.  Leptin increases maternal investment 
The primary goal of virtually all organisms is to produce genetic offspring, thereby passing on their genes to future generations. Offspring production, however, is limited by available resources within an environment. Moreover, distributing sufficient energy among competing physiological systems is challenging and can result in trade-offs between self-maintenance and offspring investment when resources are limited. In the current study, we tested the hypothesis that the adipose hormone leptin is involved in mediating energetic trade-offs between competing physiological systems. Specifically, we tested the effects of elevated maternal leptin on investment into offspring production versus self maintenance (immune function), in the Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus). The current study provides the first evidence that leptin serves as a signal to mothers of available energy resulting in epigenetic effects. Therefore, elevated leptin allows females to retain more embryos to parturition, and rear more offspring to weaning via reduced maternal infanticide. Innate immune response was suppressed seemingly as a result of these enlarged litters, suggesting that the observed fitness increase is not without costs to the mother. Collectively, these findings suggest that leptin plays a critical role in allowing mothers to determine how much energy to invest in the production and care of young versus self-maintenance.
PMCID: PMC2825785  PMID: 19710064
energy; immunity; reproduction; trade-offs
12.  Variation in stress and innate immunity in the tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus) across an urban-rural gradient 
The urban environment presents new and different challenges to wildlife, but also potential opportunities depending on the species. As urban encroachment onto native habitats continues, understanding the impact of this expansion on native species is vital to conservation. A key physiological indicator of environmental disturbance is the vertebrate stress response, involving increases in circulating glucocorticoids (i.e., corticosterone), which exert influence on numerous physiological parameters including energy storage, reproduction, and immunity. We examined how urbanization in Phoenix, Arizona influences corticosterone levels, blood parasitism, and innate immunity in populations of tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus) to determine whether urbanization may be detrimental or beneficial to this species. Both baseline and stress-induced corticosterone concentrations were significantly lower in urban lizards relative to the rural ones, however, the magnitude of the increase in corticosterone with stress did not differ across populations. Urban lizards also had a lower ratio of heterophils to lymphocytes, but elevated overall leukocyte count, as compared to lizards from the natural site. Urban and rural lizards did not differ in their prevalence of the blood parasite, Plasmodium mexicanum. Taken together, these results suggest that urban tree lizards may have suppressed overall corticosterone concentrations possibly from down-regulation as a result of frequent exposure to stressors, or increased access to urban resources. Also, urban lizards may have bolstered immunocompetence possibly from increased immune challenges, such as wounding, in the urban environment, or from greater energetic reserves being available as a result of access to urban resources.
PMCID: PMC2774757  PMID: 18594834
disturbance; corticosterone; leukocytes; urbanization; parasites

Results 1-12 (12)