• Patterns of behaviour, group structure and reproductive status predict levels of glucocorticoid metabolites in zoo-housed ring-tailed lemurs, Lemur catta.

      Smith, Tessa E.; McCusker, Cara; Stevens, Jeroen M. G.; Elwood, Robert W.; University of Chester; Queens University of Belfast; Centre for Research and Conservation, Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, Belguim (Karger Publishing, 2016-01-30)
      In ring-tailed lemurs, Lemur catta, the factors modulating hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity differ between wild and semi-free-ranging populations. Here we assess factors modulating HPA activity in ring-tailed lemurs housed in a third environment: the zoo. First we validate an enzyme immunoassay to quantify levels of glucocorticoid (GC) metabolites in the faeces of L. catta. We determine the nature of the female-female dominance hierarchies within each group by computing David’s scores and examining these in relation to faecal GC (fGC). Relationships between female age and fGC are assessed to evaluate potential age-related confounds. The associations between fGC, numbers of males in a group and reproductive status are explored. Finally, we investigate the value of 7 behaviours in predicting levels of fGC. The study revealed stable linear dominance hierarchies in females within each group. The number of males in a social group together with reproductive status, but not age, influenced fGC. The 7 behavioural variables accounted for 68% of the variance in fGC. The amounts of time an animal spent locomoting and in the inside enclosure were both negative predictors of fGC. The study highlights the flexibility and adaptability of the HPA system in ring-tailed lemurs.
    • Physiological stress in the Eurasian badger (Meles meles): Effects of host, disease and environment

      George, Shelia C.; Smith, Tessa E.; Mac Cana, Pól S. S.; Coleman, Robert C.; Montgomery, William I.; Queens University of Belfast, UK; University of Chester, UK (Elsevier, 2014-03-04)
      A method for monitoring hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) responses of the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) to stressors was validated by measuring cortisol excretion in serum and faeces. Serum and faecal samples were collected under anaesthesia from live-captured, wild badgers and fresh faeces was collected from latrines at 15 social groups in County Down, Northern Ireland. Variation in levels of cortisol in wild badgers was investigated relative to disease status, season, age, sex, body mass, body condition and reproductive status and environmental factors that might influence stress. Faecal cortisol levels were significantly higher in animals testing culture-positive for Mycobacterium bovis. Prolonged elevation of cortisol can suppress immune function, which may have implications for disease transmission. There was a strong seasonal pattern in both serum cortisol, peaking in spring and faecal cortisol, peaking in summer. Cortisol levels were also higher in adults with poor body condition and low body mass. Faecal samples collected from latrines in grassland groups had significantly higher cortisol than those collected from woodland groups, possibly as a result of greater exposure to sources of environmental stress. This study is the first to investigate factors influencing physiological stress in badgers and indicates that serological and faecal excretion are valid indices of the HPA response to a range of stressors.