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Can synchronizing feather-based measures of corticosterone and stable isotopes help us better understand habitat–physiology relationships?

AuthorsFairhurst, Graham D.; Vögeli, Matthias; Serrano, David ; Delgado Huertas, Antonio ; Tella, José Luis ; Bortolotti, Gary R.
Physiological conservation
Dupont’s lark
Stress hormone
Issue Date2013
CitationOecologia, 173(3): 731-743 (2013)
AbstractPhysiological mechanisms link the environment with population dynamics, and glucocorticoid hormones are of particular interest because they respond adaptively to environmental change and can influence vertebrate reproduction and fitness. We tested a novel approach of synchronizing feather-based measures of corticosterone (the primary avian glucocorticoid; CORTf) and ratios of stable isotopes (SIs) of C (δ13C) and N (δ15N) to provide information about environmental conditions and an integrated physiological response to those conditions over the same period of feather synthesis. Using a fragmented metapopulation of Dupont’s larks Chersophilus duponti, an endangered steppe songbird, we analyzed interrelationships among CORTf, δ13C, δ15N, and the physical environment, including measures of habitat loss and fragmentation. CORTf was not related to any habitat variable measured directly. However, we detected a significant spatial structure to CORTf values and food availability, with greater similarity in both at smaller spatial scales. Using SIs as proxies for the local environment, we found CORTf was negatively related to δ13C. Values of CORTf, δ13C, and the relationship between the two were likely driven by variation in agricultural land use surrounding lark habitat patches. Our feather-based approach revealed that individual physiology was sensitive to environmental conditions (e.g., an interaction of food availability and variation in habitat) at a local scale, but not patch or landscape scales. Combining CORTf and SIs may be a promising tool because it can provide individual-based information about habitat, physiology, and their relationship during the same time period.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00442-013-2678-8
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