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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 14, 2024
  2. Abstract

    When animals are sick, their physiology and behavior change in ways that can impact their offspring. Research is emerging showing that infection risk alone can also modify the physiology and behavior of healthy animals. If physiological responses to environments with high infection risk take place during reproduction, it is possible that they lead to maternal effects. Understanding whether and how high infection risk triggers maternal effects is important to elucidate how the impacts of infectious agents extend beyond infected individuals and how, in this way, they are even stronger evolutionary forces than already considered. Here, to evaluate the effects of infection risk on maternal responses, we exposed healthy female Japanese quail to either an immune-challenged (lipopolysaccharide [LPS] treated) mate or to a healthy (control) mate. We first assessed how females responded behaviorally to these treatments. Exposure to an immune-challenged or control male was immediately followed by exposure to a healthy male, to determine whether treatment affected paternity allocation. We predicted that females paired with immune-challenged males would avoid and show aggression towards those males, and that paternity would be skewed towards the healthy male. After mating, we collected eggs over a 5-day period. As an additional control, we collectedmore »eggs from immune-challenged females mated to healthy males. We tested eggs for fertilization status, embryo sex ratio, as well as albumen corticosterone, lysozyme activity, and ovotransferrin, and yolk antioxidant capacity. We predicted that immune-challenged females would show the strongest changes in the egg and embryo metrics, and that females exposed to immune-challenged males would show intermediate responses. Contrary to our predictions, we found no avoidance of immune-challenged males and no differences in terms of paternity allocation. Immune-challenged females laid fewer eggs, with an almost bimodal distribution of sex ratio for embryos. In this group, albumen ovotransferrin was the lowest, and yolk antioxidant capacity decreased over time, while it increased in the other treatments. No differences in albumen lysozyme were found. Both females that were immune-challenged and those exposed to immune-challenged males deposited progressively more corticosterone in their eggs over time, a pattern opposed to that shown by females exposed to control males. Our results suggest that egg-laying Japanese quail may be able to respond to infection risk, but that additional or prolonged sickness symptoms may be needed for more extensive maternal responses.

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  3. One aspect of the Reactive Scope Model is wear-and-tear, which describes a decrease in an animal’s ability to cope with a stressor, typically because of a period of chronic or repeated stressors. We investigated whether wear-and-tear due to chronic stress would accelerate a transition from phase II to phase III of fasting. We exposed house sparrows (Passer domesticus) to three weeks of daily fasts combined with daily intermittent repeated acute stressors to create chronic stress, followed by two weeks of daily fasts without stressors. We measured circulating glucose, β-hydroxybutyrate (a ketone), and uric acid in both fasted and fed states. We expected birds to be in phase II (high fat breakdown) in a fasted state, but if wear-and-tear accumulated sufficiently, we hypothesized a shift to phase III (high protein breakdown). Throughout the experiment, the birds exhibited elevated β-hydroxybutyrate when fasting but no changes in circulating uric acid, indicating that a transition to phase III did not occur. In both a fasted and fed state, the birds increased glucose mobilization throughout the experiment, suggesting wear-and-tear occurred, but was not sufficient to induce a shift to phase III. Additionally, the birds exhibited a significant decrease in weight, no change in corticosterone, andmore »a transient decrease in neophobia with chronic stress. In conclusion, the birds appear to have experienced wear-and-tear, but our protocol did not accelerate the transition from phase II to phase III of fasting.« less
  4. ABSTRACT There are complex interactions between an organism's microbiome and its response to stressors, often referred to as the ‘gut–brain axis’; however, the ecological relevance of this axis in wild animals remains poorly understood. Here, we used a chronic mild stress protocol to induce stress in wild-caught house sparrows (Passer domesticus), and compared microbial communities among stressed animals, those recovering from stress, captive controls (unstressed) and a group not brought into captivity. We assessed changes in microbial communities and abundance of shed microbes by culturing cloacal samples on multiple media to select for aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and fungi. We complemented this with cultivation-independent 16S and ITS rRNA gene amplification and sequencing, pairing these results with host physiological and immune metrics, including body mass change, relative spleen mass and plasma corticosterone concentrations. We found significant effects of stress and captivity on the house sparrow microbiomes, with stress leading to an increased relative abundance of endotoxin-producing bacteria – a possible mechanism for the hyperinflammatory response observed in captive avians. While we found evidence that the microbiome community partially recovers after stress cessation, animals may lose key taxa, and the abundance of endotoxin-producing bacteria persists. Our results suggest an overall link betweenmore »chronic stress, host immune system and the microbiome, with the loss of potentially beneficial taxa (e.g. lactic acid bacteria), and an increase in endotoxin-producing bacteria due to stress and captivity. Ultimately, consideration of the host's microbiome may be useful when evaluating the impact of stressors on individual and population health.« less