Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 178, Issue 8, pp 997–1005 | Cite as

Variation in stress and innate immunity in the tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus) across an urban–rural gradient

  • Susannah S. French
  • H. Bobby Fokidis
  • Michael C. Moore
Original Article


The urban environment presents new and different challenges to wildlife, but also potential opportunities depending on the species. As urban encroachment onto native habitats continues, understanding the impact of this expansion on native species is vital to conservation. A key physiological indicator of environmental disturbance is the vertebrate stress response, involving increases in circulating glucocorticoids (i.e. corticosterone), which exert influence on numerous physiological parameters including energy storage, reproduction, and immunity. We examined how urbanization in Phoenix, Arizona influences corticosterone levels, blood parasitism, and innate immunity in populations of tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus) to determine whether urbanization may be detrimental or beneficial to this species. Both baseline and stress-induced corticosterone concentrations were significantly lower in urban lizards relative to the rural ones, however, the magnitude of the increase in corticosterone with stress did not differ across populations. Urban lizards also had a lower ratio of heterophils to lymphocytes, but elevated overall leukocyte count, as compared to lizards from the natural site. Urban and rural lizards did not differ in their prevalence of the blood parasite, Plasmodium mexicanum. Taken together, these results suggest that urban tree lizards may have suppressed overall corticosterone concentrations possibly from down-regulation as a result of frequent exposure to stressors, or increased access to urban resources. Also, urban lizards may have bolstered immunocompetence possibly from increased immune challenges, such as wounding, in the urban environment, or from greater energetic reserves being available as a result of access to urban resources.


Disturbance Corticosterone Leukocytes Urbanization Parasites 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susannah S. French
    • 1
  • H. Bobby Fokidis
    • 2
  • Michael C. Moore
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior and Department of BiologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Organismal, Integrative, and Systems Biology, School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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