Parasites can negatively affect the evolutionary fitness of their hosts by eliciting physiological stress responses. Parasite-induced stress can be monitored by measuring changes in the adrenal steroid hormone corticosterone. We examined the effect of an invasive parasite on the corticosterone concentrations of a common species of Darwin’s finch, the medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis). Philornis downsi (Diptera: Muscidae) is a parasitic nest fly recently introduced to the Galapagos Islands, where it feeds on the blood of nestlings and breeding adult female finches. Previous work shows that P. downsi significantly reduces the reproductive success of several species of finches. We predicted that the effect of P. downsi on host reproductive success is mediated by stress responses in breeding female finches. High stress levels could reduce the ability of females to invest in offspring, thus decreasing their reproductive success. To test this hypothesis, we experimentally manipulated the abundance of P. downsi in nests, then measured baseline and acute stress-induced corticosterone levels, body condition, and hematocrit (red blood cell content). Acute stress-induced corticosterone levels increased over baseline levels, but this response did not differ significantly with parasite treatment. There was also no significant difference in the body condition or hematocrit of females from parasitized versus non-parasitized nests. Our results suggest that the lower reproductive success of females from parasitized nests is not mediated by a physiological stress response.
Condition; Geospiza fortis; Hematocrit; Invasive; Philornis downsi
Ectotherms can attain preferred body temperatures by selecting specific temperature microhabitats within a varied thermal environment. The side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana may employ microhabitat selection to thermoregulate behaviorally. It is unknown to what degree habitat structural complexity provides thermal microhabitats for thermoregulation. Thermal microhabitat structure, lizard temperature, and substrate preference were simultaneously evaluated using thermal imaging. A broad range of microhabitat temperatures was available (mean range of 11°C within 1–2 m2) while mean lizard temperature was between 36°C and 38°C. Lizards selected sites that differed significantly from the mean environmental temperature, indicating behavioral thermoregulation, and maintained a temperature significantly above that of their perch (mean difference of 2.6°C). Uta's thermoregulatory potential within a complex thermal microhabitat structure suggests that a warming trend may prove advantageous, rather than detrimental for this population.
Side-blotched lizard; thermal microhabitat; thermal preference; Uta stansburiana
The potent neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) is known from a diverse array of taxa, but is unknown in terrestrial invertebrates. Tetrodotoxin is a low molecular weight compound that acts by blocking voltage-gated sodium channels, inducing paralysis. However, the origins and ecological functions of TTX in most taxa remain mysterious. Here, we show that TTX is present in two species of terrestrial flatworm (Bipalium adventitium and Bipalium kewense) using a competitive inhibition enzymatic immunoassay to quantify the toxin and high phase liquid chromatography to confirm the presence. We also investigated the distribution of TTX throughout the bodies of the flatworms and provide evidence suggesting that TTX is used during predation to subdue large prey items. We also show that the egg capsules of B. adventitium have TTX, indicating a further role in defense. These data suggest a potential route for TTX bioaccumulation in terrestrial systems.
The world is increasingly impacted by a variety of stressors that have the potential to differentially influence life history stages of organisms. Organisms have evolved to cope with some stressors, while with others they have little capacity. It is thus important to understand the effects of both developmental and evolutionary history on survival in stressful environments. We present evidence of the effects of both developmental and evolutionary history on survival of a freshwater vertebrate, the rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa) in an osmotically stressful environment. We compared the survival of larvae in either NaCl or MgCl2 that were exposed to salinity either as larvae only or as embryos as well. Embryonic exposure to salinity led to greater mortality of newt larvae than larval exposure alone, and this reduced survival probability was strongly linked to the carry-over effect of stunted embryonic growth in salts. Larval survival was also dependent on the type of salt (NaCl or MgCl2) the larvae were exposed to, and was lowest in MgCl2, a widely-used chemical deicer that, unlike NaCl, amphibian larvae do not have an evolutionary history of regulating at high levels. Both developmental and evolutionary history are critical factors in determining survival in this stressful environment, a pattern that may have widespread implications for the survival of animals increasingly impacted by substances with which they have little evolutionary history.
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.
amphibian; egg; local adaptation; magnesium chloride; natural selection; road deicing salt; Taricha granulosa; variation
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.
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.
Amphibian; egg; embryonic development; hatching; Salamandridae; Taricha granulosa; variation
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.
Ecoimmunology; Immunity; Bacteria; Complement activity
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.
Tetrodotoxin; CIEIA; HPLC
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.
Corticosterone; reproduction; immunity; tourism
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.
immunity; energy balance; insulin; antibody response
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
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.
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.
Context-dependent; Energy allocation; Innate immunity; Life history; Resources; Sceloporus; Trade-offs
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.
energy; immunity; reproduction; trade-offs
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.
disturbance; corticosterone; leukocytes; urbanization; parasites