Oecologia

, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 731–743 | Cite as

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

  • Graham D. Fairhurst
  • Matthias Vögeli
  • David Serrano
  • Antonio Delgado
  • José L. Tella
  • Gary R. Bortolotti
Physiological Ecology - Original Research

Abstract

Physiological 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.

Keywords

Biomarker Physiological conservation Dupont’s lark Fragmentation Stress hormone 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank all collaborators during fieldwork, especially M. Méndez, P. Laiolo, M. A. Carrero and I. Afán. We thank T. Marchant for generously allowing us to use her lab and I. Luque and V. Fachal for their assistance with the corticosterone analyses. We are particularly grateful to P. Ostrom, K. Hobson, A. Bond, and two anonymous reviewers for helping improve the manuscript. G. D. F. was supported by a Dr. Ruby Larson Student Research Fund in Biology, a Malcolm A. Ramsay Memorial Award, a Nature Saskatchewan Graduate Student Award, and a Candace Savage and Keith Bell Fellowship in Grassland Ecology Studies. M. V. was supported by a pre- and postdoctoral fellowship (I3P-CSIC and MICINN). Funds were provided by Junta de Andalucía Excellence Project P07RNM 02918 (M. V., D. S., J. L. T.), the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (G. R. B.), and the University of Saskatchewan (G. D. F., G. R. B.).

Supplementary material

442_2013_2678_MOESM1_ESM.doc (197 kb)
Supplementary Appendices (DOC 197 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham D. Fairhurst
    • 1
  • Matthias Vögeli
    • 1
    • 2
  • David Serrano
    • 2
  • Antonio Delgado
    • 3
  • José L. Tella
    • 2
  • Gary R. Bortolotti
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC)SevillaSpain
  3. 3.Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra IACT (CSIC-UGR)ArmillaSpain

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