Acute thermal stressor increases glucocorticoid response but minimizes testosterone and locomotor performance in the cane toad (Rhinella marina)
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Climatic warming is a global problem and acute thermal stressor in particular could be considered as a major stressor for wildlife. Cane toads (Rhinella marina) have expanded their range into warmer regions of Australia and they provide a suitable model species to study the sub-lethal impacts of thermal stressor on the endocrine physiology of amphibians. Presently, there is no information to show that exposure to an acute thermal stressor could initiate a physiological stress (glucocorticoid) response and secondly, the possible effects on reproductive hormones and performance. Answering these questions is important for understanding the impacts of extreme temperature on amphibians. In this study, we experimented on cane toads from Queensland, Australia by acclimating them to mildly warm temperature (25oC) and then exposing to acute temperature treatments of 30o, 35o or 40oC (hypothetical acute thermal stressors). We measured acute changes in the stress hormone corticosterone and the reproductive hormone testosterone using standard capture and handling protocol and quantified the metabolites of both hormones non-invasively using urinary enzyme-immunoassays. Furthermore, we measured performance trait (i.e. righting response score) in the control acclimated and the three treatment groups. Corticosterone stress responses increased in all toads during exposure to an acute thermal stressor. Furthermore, exposure to a thermal stressor also decreased testosterone levels in all toads. The duration of the righting response (seconds) was longer for toads that were exposed to 40oC than to 30o, 35o or 25oC. The increased corticosterone stress response with increased intensity of the acute thermal stressor suggests that the toads perceived this treatment as a stressor. Furthermore, the results also highlight a potential trade-off with performance and reproductive hormones. Ultimately, exposure acute thermal stressors due to climatic variability could impact amphibians at multiple ecophysiological levels through impacts on endocrine physiology, performance and potentially fitness traits (e.g. reproductive output).
Copyright 2014 Narayan et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CCAL. (http://www.plos.org/journals/license.html)