Experimentally reducing corticosterone mitigates rapid captivity effects on behavior, but not body composition, in a wild bird.
ABSTRACT: Wild animals and captives display physiological and behavioral differences, and it has been hypothesized, but rarely tested, that these differences are caused by sustained elevation of the hormone corticosterone. We used repeated computed tomography (CT) imaging to examine body composition changes in breeding male and female wild house sparrows (Passer domesticus; n=20) in response to two weeks of captivity, and assessed behavioral changes using video recordings. Half of the birds received the drug mitotane, which significantly decreased stress-induced corticosterone titers compared to controls. Based on the CT images, fat volumes increased, and pectoralis muscle density and heart and testes volumes decreased, over the two weeks of captivity in both groups of birds. However, beak-wiping, a behavior that can indicate anxiety and aggression, showed increased occurrence in controls compared to mitotane-treated birds. While our results do not support the hypothesis that these body composition changes were primarily driven by stress-induced corticosterone, our data suggest that experimentally reducing stress-induced corticosterone may mitigate some captivity-induced behavioral changes. Broadly, our results emphasize that researchers should take behavioral and physiological differences between free-living animals and captives into consideration when designing studies and interpreting results. Further, time in captivity should be minimized when birds will be reintroduced back to the wild.
Project description:While urbanization exposes individuals to novel challenges, urban areas may also constitute stable environments in which seasonal fluctuations are buffered. Baseline and stress-induced plasma corticosterone (cort) levels are often found to be similar in urban and rural populations. Here we aimed to disentangle two possible mechanisms underlying such pattern: (i) urban environments are no more stressful or urban birds have a better ability to habituate to stressors; or (ii) urban birds developed desensitized stress responses. We exposed wild-caught urban and rural house sparrows (Passer domesticus) to combined captivity and diet treatments (urban versus rural diet) and measured corticosterone levels both in natural tail feathers and in regrown homologous ones (cortf). Urban and rural house sparrows showed similar cortf levels in the wild and in response to novel stressors caused by the experiment, supporting the growing notion that urban environments are no more stressful during the non-breeding season than are rural ones. Still, juveniles and males originating from urban populations showed the highest cortf levels in regrown feathers. We did not find evidence that cortf was consistent within individuals across moults. Our study stresses the need for incorporating both intrinsic and environmental factors for the interpretation of variation in cortf between populations.
Project description:Captivity maybe the only choice for survival of many endangered vertebrates, and understanding its broad effects is important for animal management and conservation, including breeding endangered species for subsequent release. Extreme environmental changes during captivity may influence survival ability in the wild. Captivity decreases gut bacterial diversity in a wide range of animals. However, most studies directly compare animals living in captivity with those in the wild, and there is a lack of understanding of effects of gradient shift in lifestyle during species reintroduction based on the soft-release strategy, which involves a confinement period in a field enclosure. Here, we used 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing to analyze gut microbiomes of 11 captive and 12 semi-wild Przewalski's horses (PH; Equus ferus przewalskii) under the same captivity environment, using fecal samples. A subset of samples with abundant extracted DNA (including 3 captive and 3 semi-wild individuals) was selected for whole-genome shotgun sequencing. We found that community diversity did not differ between the semi-wild PH and captive PH, but the semi-wild PH had significantly higher bacterial richness than those in captivity. Relative abundances of all dominant phyla were similar across the semi-wild or captive horses, while those of the non-dominant phyla Tenericutes and Proteobacteria were significantly higher in semi-wild PH than in captive PH. Beta diversity results indicated that bacterial communities of captives and semi-wild horses were clearly separated distinct when considering only composition. Functional profiling of the microbiomes revealed that the semi-wild and captive gut microbiomes were largely similar. However, semi-wild horse microbiomes had higher abundance of bacterial genes related to core metabolic processes, such as carbohydrates, amino acids, and nucleic acid metabolism. The study revealed that semi-wild PH could retain specific non-dominant bacteria and harbor a more diverse microbiome than the captive counterpart, and thus have higher metabolic potential to utilize the complex plants efficiently. These results indicate that change in host lifestyle may play a role in microbiome differentiation in the process of reintroduction, suggesting that a short period of time in captivity is acceptable for PH from the perspective of maintaining the richness of intestinal bacterial flora to some extent.
Project description:Although the transfer of wild animals to captivity is crucial for conservation purposes, this process is often challenging because some species or individuals do not adjust well to captive conditions. Chronic stress has been identified as a major concern for animals held on long-term captivity. Surprisingly, the first hours or days of captivity have been relatively overlooked. However, they are certainly very stressful, because individuals are being transferred to a totally novel and confined environment. To ensure the success of conservation programmes, it appears crucial to better understand the proximate causes of interspecific and interindividual variability in the sensitivity to these first hours of captivity. In that respect, the study of stress hormones is relevant, because the hormonal stress response may help to assess whether specific individuals or species adjust, or not, to such captive conditions ('the stress response-adjustment to captivity hypothesis'). We tested this hypothesis in rock pigeons by measuring their corticosterone stress response and their ability to adjust to short-term captivity (body mass loss and circulating corticosterone levels after a day of captivity). We showed that an increased corticosterone stress response is associated with a lower ability to adjust to short-term captivity (i.e. higher body mass loss and circulating corticosterone levels). Our study suggests, therefore, that a low physiological sensitivity to stress may be beneficial for adjusting to captivity. Future studies should now explore whether the stress response can be useful to predict the ability of individuals from different populations or species to not only adjust to short-term but also long-term captivity.
Project description:Individual physiological variation may underlie individual differences in behaviour in response to stressors. This study tested the hypothesis that individual variation in dopamine and corticosteroid physiology in wild house sparrows (Passer domesticus, n = 15) would significantly predict behaviour and weight loss in response to a long-term stressor, captivity. We found that individuals that coped better with captivity (fewer anxiety-related behaviours, more time spent feeding, higher body mass) had lower baseline and higher stress-induced corticosteroid titres at capture. Birds with higher striatal D2 receptor binding (examined using positron emission tomography (PET) with 11C-raclopride 24 h post-capture) spent more time feeding in captivity, but weighed less, than birds with lower D2 receptor binding. In the subset of individuals imaged a second time, D2 receptor binding decreased in captivity in moulting birds, and larger D2 decreases were associated with increased anxiety behaviours 2 and 4 weeks post-capture. This suggests changes in dopaminergic systems could be one physiological mechanism underlying negative behavioural effects of chronic stress. Non-invasive technologies like PET have the potential to transform our understanding of links between individual variation in physiology and behaviour and elucidate which neuroendocrine phenotypes predict stress resilience, a question with important implications for both humans and wildlife.
Project description:Captive breeding is a vital conservation tool for many endangered species programs. It is often a last resort when wild animal population numbers drop to below critical minimums for natural reproduction. However, critical ecophysiological information of wild counterparts may not be well documented or understood, leading to years of minimal breeding successes. We collected endocrine and associated ecological data on a critically endangered ectotherm concurrently in the wild and in captivity over several years. We tracked plasma concentrations of steroid stress and reproductive hormones, body condition, activity, and environmental parameters in three populations (one wild and two geographically distinct captive) of ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora). Hormone profiles along with environmental and behavioral data are presented and compared. We show that animals have particular seasonal environmental requirements that can affect annual reproduction, captivity affects reproductive state, and sociality may be required at certain times of the year for breeding to be successful. Our data suggest that changes in climatic conditions experienced by individuals, either due to decades-long shifts or hemispheric differences when translocated from their native range, can stifle breeding success for several years while the animals physiologically acclimatize. We also found that captivity affects stress (plasma corticosterone) and body condition of adults and juveniles differently and seasonally. Our results indicate that phenotypic plasticity in reproduction and behavior is related to environmental cues in long-lived ectotherms, and detailed ecophysiological data should be used when establishing and improving captive husbandry conditions for conservation breeding programs. Further, considering the recent revelation of this tortoises' possible extirpation from the wild, these data are critically opportune and may be key to the survival of this species.
Project description:Despite the importance of behaviour in conservation biology, there have been few studies that address behaviour in areas such as invasion ecology. There is an urgent need to identify specific traits that facilitate the establishment and spread of alien species to prevent biological invasions and their impact on biodiversity. Changes in antipredatory behaviour in captivity have been proposed to explain the higher invasiveness of wild-caught exotic species. We experimentally tested this hypothesis by assessing the response of wild-caught and captive-bred cage birds facing an approaching predator and their ability to escape from human capture, using species available in the Spanish pet market. Results showed the loss of antipredatory responses and escape abilities in captive-bred birds compared with wild-caught ones. An intraspecific comparison between wild-caught and the first generation of captive-bred birds pointed to a rapid behavioural loss in captivity (individual lifetime) rather than to differences among species (evolutionary exposure). In the context of current avian invasions, the proportion of individuals showing antipredatory responses within a species was positively related to the likelihood of the species being found escaped and breeding in the wild. These results offer a link between behaviour, fitness, and the invasion syndrome in birds.
Project description:In most vertebrate animals, glucocorticoid hormones are the chief mediators of homeostasis in response to ecological conditions and as they progress through their lifecycle. In addition, glucocorticoids are a major part of the stress response and stress induced elevations of the hormone can make it difficult to assess glucocorticoid secretion in response to changes in life-stage and current environmental conditions in wild animals. Particularly when quantifying circulating levels of glucocorticoids in the blood which fluctuate rapidly in response to stress. An alternative method of quantifying glucocorticoids is as hormone metabolites in faeces or urine giving a historical sample related to the gut passage time and urinary tract that is less sensitive to stressful events which cause spikes in the circulating hormone level. Although the concentration of glucocorticoid metabolites are influenced by faecal mass thereby potentially affecting any differences in hormone metabolites detected amongst samples. In the present study, we aimed to detect changes in levels of corticosterone, the primary bird glucocorticoid, in relation to the phase of reproduction, in a breeding population of collared flycatchers by sampling corticosterone metabolites in droppings. We also tested how corticosterone metabolite concentrations were affected by ambient temperature and related to body condition in adult birds. Our results indicate that the upregulation of corticosterone between incubation and nestling feeding in female birds is crucial for successful reproduction in this species. Also, females appear to downregulate corticosterone during incubation in response to lower ambient temperature and poorer body condition. Our results did not indicate a relationship between dropping mass and corticosterone metabolite concentrations, which suggests that our findings were linked to the regulation of corticosterone in response to predictable and unpredictable challenges.
Project description:BACKGROUND:African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) are kept as pets and are frequently hand-reared. It has been observed that hand-reared African grey parrots may develop behavioral disorders such as feather damaging behavior (FDB). It is well known that chronic stress is involved in behavioral disorders in captive parrots. The main glucocorticoid in birds is corticosterone; its quantification provides information about adrenocortical activity and is considered to be a reliable indicator of stress levels in birds. We analyzed the differences in the excretion of corticosterone metabolites (CM) in the droppings of African grey parrots characterized by: 1. different rearing histories (parent rearing vs. hand rearing); and 2. the presence or absence of FDB in hand-reared parrots. METHODS:A total of 82 African grey parrots that were kept in captivity were considered. According to breeding methods, three groups of birds were defined: 1. The parent-reared (PR) parrots included birds kept in pairs (n = 30 pairs) with a conspecific partner of the opposite sex. All of these birds were healthy and never showed FDB signs; 2. The healthy hand-reared parrots (H-HR) included pet parrots individually kept, that were hand-reared and did not display any sign of FDB (n = 11, 7 males and 4 females); 3. The FDB hand-reared parrot (FDB-HR) included pet parrots individually kept, that were hand-reared and displayed FDB (n = 11, 7 males and 4 females). Droppings were collected in the morning over three alternating days in autumn 2014 and spring 2015. The CM were determined using a multi-species corticosterone enzyme immunoassay kit. Split-plot repeated-measure ANOVA was used to examine any differences using group, season and group × season as the main factors. RESULTS:Different quantities of CM in droppings were found for the three groups. The mean CM value was 587 ng/g in the PR parrots, 494 ng/g in the H-HR parrots and 1,744 ng/g in the FDB-HR parrots, irrespective of the season. The excretion of CM in FDB-HR was significantly higher than in PR or H-HR parrots. CM in droppings were not influenced by the season (autumn vs. spring); furthermore, the interaction between group and sampling season was not significant. Limited to the H-HR and FDB-HR groups, a trend in the significance of the difference in the mean CM excreted by male and female birds was observed, with the levels excreted by males being higher than those excreted by females. When the effect of age was considered (in the two separate groups), there was a statistically significant positive correlation only for H-HR. CONCLUSIONS:The highest amount of CM excretion was found in FDB-HR parrots, and a positive correlation between age and CM excretion was found in H-HR. Given that the CM excretion of both PR and H-HR parrots was similar in our study, future research is recommended to investigate the specific aspects of hand-rearing to improve parrot welfare.
Project description:Highly plastic endocrine traits are thought to play a central role in allowing organisms to respond rapidly to environmental change. Yet, not all individuals display the same degree of plasticity in these traits, and the costs of this individual variation in plasticity are unknown. We studied individual differences in corticosterone levels under varying conditions to test whether there are consistent individual differences in (1) baseline corticosterone levels; (2) plasticity in the hormonal response to an ecologically relevant stressor (food restriction); and (3) whether individual differences in plasticity are related to fitness costs, as estimated by oxidative stress levels. We took 25 wild-caught house sparrows into captivity and assigned them to repeated food restricted and control treatments (60% and 110% of their daily food intake), such that each individual experienced both food restricted and control diets twice. We found significant individual variation in baseline corticosterone levels and stress responsiveness, even after controlling for changes in body mass. However, these individual differences in hormonal responsiveness were not related to measures of oxidative stress. These results have implications for how corticosterone levels may evolve in natural populations and raise questions about what we can conclude from phenotypic correlations between hormone levels and fitness measures.
Project description:Immune responses have been mostly studied at a specific time in anuran species. However, time-changes related to immunomodulation associated with glucocorticoid (GC) alterations following stressors and GC treatment are complex. The present study describes time-related changes in immune response and corticosterone (CORT) plasma levels following restraint challenge, short, mid and long-term captivity, and CORT exogenous administration by transdermal application (TA) in Rhinella ornata toads. We observed increased neutrophil: lymphocyte ratios after restraint challenge and CORT TA, without changes following short and mid-term captivity. Plasma bacterial killing ability was sustained in all treatments, except long-term captivity, with decreased values after 90 days under such conditions. Phagocytic activity of peritoneal cells increased after mid-term captivity, and the phytohemagglutinin swelling response was impaired in those animals treated with CORT TA for 20 consecutive days. Plasma CORT levels increased or were sustained after restraint challenge (depending on initial values), decreased following mid and long-term captivity (for those animals showing high CORT in the field) and increased after 20 days of CORT TA. By performing assessments of time-changes in immune processes and CORT plasma levels in R. ornata, we demonstrate immuno-enhancing effects following restraint, short and mid-term stressors, while long-term stressors and CORT TA promoted immunosuppression in these toads.