Compensating for a stressful pregnancy? Glucocorticoid treatment during gravidity reduces metabolic rate in female fence lizards post-parturition

K. J. MacLeod, T. Langkilde, J. J. Heppner, C. A.F. Howey, K. Sprayberry, C. Tylan, M. J. Sheriff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reproduction is a critical part of an animal's life history, but one which incurs significant costs to survival and future reproductive potential. These physiological consequences are likely to be influenced by context – for example, if an individual is subject to environmental stressors, physiological and behavioral changes associated with reproduction may be altered. Glucocorticoids, hormones produced as part of the physiological response to stressors, may alter how reproduction affects female physiology and behavior, and therefore the outcomes of reproductive trade-offs. Glucocorticoids prioritize immediate survival over reproduction, for example through changes in immune function, metabolic rate, and foraging, which may reduce energy expenditure or increase energy gain. However, we previously found that female eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) experiencing elevated glucocorticoid levels during gestation were nevertheless able to maintain reproductive output and body condition. Here we investigate compensatory mechanisms by which eastern fence lizard females may maintain reproduction under experimental increases in a glucocorticoid, corticosterone (CORT). We found that, although CORT-treated females had similar immune function and behavior, they had reduced metabolic rates 3-5 days post-parturition compared to control females. Given that CORT-treated females spent a similar time basking and had equal food intake compared to control females, we suggest that the reduced metabolic rate is a mechanism by which CORT-treated females maintain their energy balance and reduce the energetic costs of gestation during periods of stress. This study suggests that physiological responses to reproduction may be context-dependent and could act to minimize costs of reproduction in situations where CORT is elevated (such as during periods of environmental stress).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105072
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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