Rates of human-induced environmental change continue increasing with human population size, potentially altering animal physiology and negatively affecting wildlife. Researchers often use glucocorticoid concentrations (hormones that can be associated with stressors) to gauge the impact of anthropogenic factors (e.g. urbanization, noise and light pollution). Yet, no general relationships between human-induced environmental change and glucocorticoids have emerged. Given the number of recent studies reporting baseline and stress-induced corticosterone (the primary glucocorticoid in birds and reptiles) concentrations worldwide, it is now possible to conduct large-scale comparative analyses to test for general associations between disturbance and baseline and stress-induced corticosterone across species. Additionally, we can control for factors that may influence context, such as life history stage, environmental conditions and urban adaptability of a species. Here, we take a phylogenetically informed approach and use data from HormoneBase to test if baseline and stress-induced corticosterone are valid indicators of exposure to human footprint index, human population density, anthropogenic noise and artificial light at night in birds and reptiles. Our results show a negative relationship between anthropogenic noise and baseline corticosterone for birds characterized as urban avoiders. While our results potentially indicate that urban avoiders are more sensitive to noise than other species, overall our study suggests that the relationship between human-induced environmental change and corticosterone varies across species and contexts; we found no general relationship between human impacts and baseline and stress-induced corticosterone in birds, nor baseline corticosterone in reptiles. Therefore, it should not be assumed that high or low levels of exposure to human-induced environmental change are associated with high or low corticosterone levels, respectively, or that closely related species, or even individuals, will respond similarly. Moving forward, measuring alternative physiological traits alongside reproductive success, health and survival may provide context to better understand the potential negative effects of human-induced environmental change.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Oxford University Press
Injaian, A.S., Francis, C.D., Ouyang, J.Q., Dominoni, D.M., Donald, J.W., Fuxjager, M.J., Goymann, W., ... & Vitousek, M.N. (2020). Baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels across birds and reptiles do not reflect urbanization levels. Conservation Physiology, 8(1). doi: 10.1093/conphys/coz110
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