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Title: Feather corticosterone does not correlate with environmental stressors or body condition in an endangered waterbird
Abstract Physiological metrics are becoming popular tools for assessing individual condition and population health to inform wildlife management and conservation decisions. Corticosterone assays can provide information on how animals cope with individual and habitat-level stressors, and the recent development of feather assays is an exciting innovation that could yield important insights for conservation of wild birds. Due to the widespread enthusiasm for feather corticosterone as a potential bioindicator, studies are needed to assess the ability of this technique to detect meaningful differences in physiological stress across a variety of stressor types and intensities. We examined feather corticosterone from 144 individuals among the 13 known breeding populations of Hawaiian gallinule (Gallinula galeata sandvicensis), an endangered waterbird, on the island of O‘ahu. These ecologically independent subpopulations are known to have low genetic connectivity and movement rates and differ largely across a number of important conditions, including level of predator management, human disturbance, proximity to urban development and conspecific population density. This system is well suited for assessing the performance of feather corticosterone as a bioindicator of different known habitat-level threats common to this and many other conservation-reliant species. We found no statistically significant relationship between feather corticosterone and level of predator control, more » level of human disturbance, gallinule population density, percent urban cover or body condition across all sites despite the substantial difference in stressor magnitude in our dataset. We did find that gallinules in habitats with larger population densities were in worse body condition. These findings suggest that feather corticosterone is not a consistent indicator of anthropogenic impacts on populations. Furthermore, they suggest that feather corticosterone may be a poor bioindicator of known habitat-level threats for Hawaiian gallinules and that it should be used with caution in other avian taxa of conservation concern. « less
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Cooke, Steven
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Conservation Physiology
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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