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Hair cortisol concentration as a noninvasive measure of long-term stress in free-ranging grizzly bears (Ursus arctos): considerations with implications for other wildlife

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Human-caused landscape change negatively affects the sustainability of many wildlife populations. In Alberta, Canada, grizzly bears (Ursus arctos L., 1758) live in one of the most populated and heavily exploited landscapes in which the species survives. Long-term physiological stress in individual animals may be the predominant mechanism linking landscape change with impaired wildlife population health. Hair cortisol concentration has been validated as a biomarker of long-term stress in humans and domestic animals; however, limited work has examined factors that may affect its measurement or interpretation. We have measured cortisol in as few as five guard hairs of a grizzly bear and have identified factors influencing hair cortisol concentration in this species. Hair cortisol varies with hair type, body region, and capture method. It is not influenced by colour, age, sex, environmental exposure (18 days), or prolonged laboratory storage (>1 year) and does not vary along the length of the hair shaft. Recommendations for prudent use of hair cortisol analysis in grizzly bears are discussed with implications for the development of hair cortisol concentration as a tool to monitor long-term stress in other wildlife.

Les modifications anthropiques du paysage affectent négativement la durabilité de plusieurs populations de la faune sauvage. En Alberta, Canada, les ours grizzlis (Ursus arctos L., 1758) habitent l’un des paysages les plus densément peuplés et fortement exploités dans lesquels l’espèce arrive à survivre. Le stress physiologique à long terme chez les animaux individuels est vraisemblablement le mécanisme qui relie les modifications du paysage à la détérioration de la santé de la population de faune sauvage. La concentration de cortisol dans le poil constitue un biomarqueur éprouvé du stress à long terme chez les humains et les animaux domestiques; cependant, peu de travaux ont examiné les facteurs qui peuvent en affecter la mesure ou l’interprétation. Nous avons dosé le cortisol dans aussi peu que cinq poils de garde de grizzlis et identifié les facteurs qui contrôlent la concentration de cortisol dans le poil chez cette espèce. Le cortisol dans le poil varie en fonction du type de poil, de la région du corps et de la méthode de capture. Il n’est pas influencé par la couleur, l’âge, le sexe, l’exposition au milieu (18 jours), ni l’entreposage en laboratoire (>1 an); il ne varie pas le long de la tige du poil. Nous commentons nos recommandations pour un usage prudent de l’analyse du cortisol des poils chez les grizzlis et discutons des conséquences sur l’utilisation plus étendue du cortisol des poils comme outil pour suivre le stress de longue durée chez d’autres animaux sauvages.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-10-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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