Ecological correlates of stress for a habitat generalist in a biofuels landscape

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Abstract:

Understanding the success of habitat generalist species requires knowledge of how individuals respond to stressors that vary across habitats within landscapes. Habitat structure can affect stress by altering predation risk, conspecific densities, and densities of heterospecific competitors. Increased demand for biofuels will alter habitat structure for species in agroecosystems worldwide. We measured stress responses of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus (Wagner, 1845)), a widespread habitat generalist, in a biofuels landscape. We quantified fecal corticosterone concentrations for individuals in four biofuel crops: switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus Greef & Deuter ex Hodkinson & Renvoize), mixed prairie, and corn (Zea mays L.). We also evaluated stress responses of deer mice to the annual harvesting of corn. Deer mice inhabiting switchgrass and mixed prairie had higher fecal corticosterone concentrations compared with mice in corn and miscanthus. Fecal corticosterone concentrations correlated positively with abundances of conspecifics and behaviorally dominant voles (prairie vole, Microtus ochrogaster (Wagner, 1842); meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus (Ord, 1815)) across habitats. Stress levels of deer mice depended on how habitat structure modified the competitive environment. Deer mice did not exhibit increased fecal corticosterone concentrations in response to corn harvest, a rapid and extensive habitat disturbance common to agroecosystems. Our research is the first to investigate how landscape change due to biofuels expansion can affect stress levels of individuals.
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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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