Fecal hormone assays provide a powerful tool for noninvasive monitoring of endocrine status in wild animals. In this study we validated a protocol for extracting and measuring glucocorticoids in free-living and captive Belding's ground squirrels (Spermophilus beldingi). We first compared two commonly used extraction protocols to determine which performed better with commercially available antibodies. We next verified the preferred extraction method by correlating circulating and fecal glucocorticoid measures from a group of individuals over time. For this comparison, we used both a cortisol and a corticosterone antibody to determine which had greater affinity to the fecal metabolites. Cortisol was the primary circulating glucocorticoid, but both hormones were present in well above detectable concentrations in the blood, which does not occur in other sciurids. In addition, the cortisol antibody showed greater binding with the fecal extracts than did the corticosterone antibody. Finally, we used adrenocorticotropic hormone and dexamethasone challenges to demonstrate that changes in adrenal functioning are reflected in changing fecal corticoid levels. These results suggest that our extraction protocol provides a fast, reliable assay of stress hormones in free-living ground squirrels without the confounding influence of short-term rises in glucocorticoid concentrations caused by handling and restraint stress and that it can facilitate ecological and evolutionary studies of stress in wild species.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology