Ecological correlates of fecal corticosterone metabolites in female greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)


Measurement of physiological responses can reveal effects of ecological conditions on an animal and correlate with demographic parameters. Ecological conditions for many animal species have deteriorated as a function of invasive plants and habitat fragmentation. Expansion of juniper (genus Juniperus L.) trees and invasion of annual grasses into sagebrush (genus Artemisia L.) ecosystems have contributed to habitat degradation for Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus (Bonaparte, 1827); hereinafter Sage-Grouse), a species of conservation concern throughout its range. We evaluated relationships between habitat use in a landscape modified by juniper expansion and annual grasses and corticosterone metabolite levels (stress responses) in feces (FCORTm) of female Sage-Grouse. We used remotely sensed data to estimate vegetation cover within the home ranges of hens and accounted for factors that influence FCORTm in other vertebrates, such as age and weather. We collected 35 fecal samples from 22 radio-collared hens during the 2017–2018 brood-rearing season (24 May–26 July) in southwestern Idaho (USA). Concentrations of corticosterone increased with home range size but decreased with reproductive effort and temperature. The importance of home range size suggests that maintaining or improving habitats that promote smaller home ranges would likely facilitate a lower stress response by hens, which should benefit Sage-Grouse survival and reproduction.

Publication Title

Canadian Journal of Zoology