Context-dependent effects of glucocorticoids on the lizard gut microbiome

Kirsty J. MacLeod, Kevin D. Kohl, Brian K. Trevelline, Tracy Langkilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The vertebrate gut microbiota (bacterial, archaeal and fungal communities of the gastrointestinal tract) can have profound effects on the physiological processes of their hosts. Although relatively stable, changes in microbiome structure and composition occur due to changes in the environment, including exposure to stressors and associated increases in glucocorticoid hormones. Although a growing number of studies have linked stressor exposure to microbiome changes, few studies have experimentally explored the specific influence of glucocorticoids on the microbiome in wild animals, or across ecologically important processes (e.g., reproductive stages). Here we tested the response of the gut microbiota of adult female Sceloporus undulatus across gestation to ecologically relevant elevations of a stress-relevant glucocorticoid hormone (CORT) in order to determine (i) how experimentally elevated CORT influenced microbiome characteristics, and (ii) whether this relationship was dependent on reproductive context (i.e., whether females were gravid or not, and, in those that were gravid, gestational stage). We show that the effects of CORT on gut microbiota are complex and depend on both gestational state and stage. CORT treatment altered microbial community membership and resulted in an increase in microbiome diversity in late-gestation females, and microbial community membership varied according to treatment. In nongravid females, CORT treatment decreased interindividual variation in microbial communities, but this effect was not observed in late-gestation females. Our results highlight the need for a more holistic understanding of the downstream physiological effects of glucocorticoids, as well as the importance of context (here, gestational state and stage) in interpreting stress effects in ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-196
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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