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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

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Conservation Physiology





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Glucocorticoids, such as corticosterone (CORT), commonly serve as a measure of stress levels in vertebrate populations. These hormones have been implicated in regulation of feeding behaviour, locomotor activity, body mass, lipid metabolism and other crucial behaviours and physiological processes. Thus, understanding how glucocorticoids fluctuate seasonally and in response to specific stressors can yield insight into organismal health and the overall health of populations. I compared circulating CORT concentrations between two similar populations of painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, which differed primarily in the level of exposure to human recreational activities. I measured basal CORT concentrations as well as the CORT stress response and did not find any substantive difference between the two populations. This similarity may indicate that painted turtles are not stressed by the presence of humans during the nesting season. The results of this study contribute to our understanding of CORT concentrations in freshwater reptiles, a group that is historically under-represented in studies of circulating hormone concentrations; specifically, studies that seek to use circulating concentrations of stress hormones, such as CORT, as a measure of the effect of human activities on wild populations. They also give insight into how these species as a whole may respond to human recreational activities during crucial life-history stages, such as the nesting season. Although there was no discernable difference between circulating CORT concentrations between the urban and rural populations studied, I did find a significant difference in circulating CORT concentrations between male and female C. picta. This important finding provides better understanding of the sex differences between male and female painted turtles and adds to our understanding of this species and other species of freshwater turtle.


This article is published as Polich, Rebecca L. "Stress hormone levels in a freshwater turtle from sites differing in human activity." Conservation physiology 4, no. 1 (2016): cow016. doi: 10.1093/conphys/cow016.

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