Glucocorticoids are metabolic byproducts of animals' physiological responses to ecological or social challenges and are thought to represent an adaptive response allowing beneficial responses to short-term challenges. Glucocorticoid metabolites (GCs) can be assayed non-invasively through faeces and therefore can be a useful tool to gauge the health of populations experiencing natural and/or anthropogenic stressors. However, the response of GCs to anthropogenic stressors varies, with both higher and lower GC levels reported. Here, we describe variation in GC secretion within eight diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) groups across 1 year. These groups span a gradient of anthropogenic habitat disturbance, including groups in continuous forest (CONT') and disturbed fragments (FRAG'), and indicators of health suggest that FRAG groups are negatively impacted by habitat disturbance. We monitored phenology, used focal animal follows to quantify diet and collected faeces (n = 547) from which we quantified GC content using enzyme immunoassay. All groups showed elevated lean-season GCs, but with a single, brief peak. GCs were inversely correlated with feeding time. No overall effect of habitat (CONT vs. FRAG) was found, but the lean-season peak was significantly higher in CONT groups. There was a significant season∗age-sex interaction; adult females had an attenuated lean-season response compared with groupmates. The observed lean-season challenge' is consistent with previous lemur studies, as well as mammals in general. Low and largely invariable GC levels in FRAG, within the context of observed health and nutritional declines, suggest that FRAG groups employ a strategy whereby the adrenal response to stressors is downregulated. More research is needed to contextualize our observations of GC variation and health on an individual level, both in terms of corroborating evidence for ecological and social stressors, and longer-term quantification of reproductive success and fitness.
- Field endocrinology
- habitat disturbance
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecological Modeling
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law