Glucocorticoids and leukocyte ratios have become the most widespread variables employed to test hypotheses regarding physiological stress in wild and captive vertebrates. Little is known, however, regarding how these two indices of stress covary in response to stressors, their repeatability within individuals, and differences in response time upon capture. Furthermore, few studies compare stress indices between captive and wild populations, to assess potential alteration of stress physiology in captivity. To address these issues, we examined corticosterone (CORT) and heterophil to lymphocyte (H:L) ratios in two ecotypes of the garter snake Thamnophis elegans. We found that CORT and H:L ratios were not correlated within individuals, and both variables showed little or no repeatability over a period of months. CORT levels, but not H:L ratios, were higher for individuals sampled after 10min from the time of capture. However, both variables showed similar patterns of ecotypic variation, and both increased over time in gravid females maintained in captivity for four months. We suggest that CORT and H:L ratios are both useful, but disparate indices of stress in this species, and may show complex relationships to each other and to ecological and anthropogenic variables.
Glucocorticoids are main candidates for mediating life-history trade-offs by regulating the balance between current reproduction and survival. It has been proposed that slow-living organisms should show higher stress-induced glucocorticoid levels that favor self-maintenance rather than current reproduction when compared to fast-living organisms. We tested this hypothesis in replicate populations of two ecotypes of the garter snake (Thamnophis elegans) that exhibit slow and fast pace of life strategies. We subjected free-ranging snakes to a capture-restraint protocol and compared the stress-induced corticosterone levels between slow- and fast-living snakes. We also used a five-year dataset to assess whether baseline corticosterone levels followed the same pattern as stress-induced levels in relation to pace of life. In accordance with the hypothesis, slow-living snakes showed higher stress-induced corticosterone levels than fast-living snakes. Baseline corticosterone levels showed a similar pattern with ecotype, although differences depended on the year of study. Overall, however, levels of glucocorticoids are higher in slow-living than fast-living snakes, which should favor self-maintenance and survival at the expense of current reproduction. The results of the present study are the first to relate glucocorticoid levels and pace of life in a reptilian system and contribute to our understanding of the physiological mechanisms involved in life-history evolution.
Whether anthropogenic mortality is additive or compensatory to natural mortality in animal populations has long been a question of theoretical and practical importance. Theoretically, under density-dependent conditions populations compensate for anthropogenic mortality through decreases in natural mortality and/or increases in productivity, but recent studies of large carnivores suggest that anthropogenic mortality can be fully additive to natural mortality and thereby constrain annual survival and population growth rate. Nevertheless, mechanisms underlying either compensatory or additive effects continue to be poorly understood. Using long-term data on a reintroduced population of the red wolf, we tested for evidence of additive vs. compensatory effects of anthropogenic mortality on annual survival and population growth rates, and the preservation and reproductive success of breeding pairs. We found that anthropogenic mortality had a strong additive effect on annual survival and population growth rate at low population density, though there was evidence for compensation in population growth at high density. When involving the death of a breeder, anthropogenic mortality was also additive to natural rates of breeding pair dissolution, resulting in a net decrease in the annual preservation of existing breeding pairs. However, though the disbanding of a pack following death of a breeder resulted in fewer recruits per litter relative to stable packs, there was no relationship between natural rates of pair dissolution and population growth rate at either high or low density. Thus we propose that short-term additive effects of anthropogenic mortality on population growth in the red wolf population at low density were primarily a result of direct mortality of adults rather than indirect socially-mediated effects resulting in reduced recruitment. Finally, we also demonstrate that per capita recruitment and the proportion of adults that became reproductive declined steeply with increasing population density, suggesting that there is potential for density-dependent compensation of anthropogenically-mediated population regulation.
1.?Ecoimmunological theory predicts a link between life-history and immune-defence strategies such that fast-living organisms should rely more on constitutive innate defences compared to slow-living organisms. An untested assumption of this hypothesis is that the variation in immune defence associated with variation in life history has a genetic basis. 2.?Replicate populations of two life-history ecotypes of the garter snake Thamnophis elegans provide an ideal system in which to test this assumption. Free-ranging snakes of the fast-living ecotype, which reside in lakeshore habitats, show higher levels of three measures of constitutive innate immunity than those of the slow-living ecotype, which inhabit meadows around the lake. Although this pattern is consistent with the ecoimmunological pace-of-life hypothesis, environmental differences between the lakeshore and meadow habitats could also explain the observed differences in immune defence. 3.?We performed a common-environment experiment to distinguish between these alternatives. Snakes born and raised in common-environment conditions reflected the immune phenotype of their native habitats when sampled at 4 months of age (i.e. fast-living lakeshore snakes showed higher levels of natural antibodies, complement activity and bactericidal competence than slow-living meadow snakes), but no longer showed differences when 19 months old. 4.?This suggests that the differences in innate immunity observed between the two ecotypes have an important - and likely age-specific - environmental influence, with these immune components showing developmental plasticity. A genetic effect in early life may also be present, but further research is needed to confirm this possibility and therefore provide a more definitive test of the ecoimmunological pace-of-life hypothesis in this system.
The evolutionary maintenance of cooperative breeding systems is thought to be a function of relative costs and benefits to breeders, helpers and juveniles. Beneficial effects of helpers on early-life survivorship and performance have been established in several species, but lifetime fitness benefits and/or costs of being helped remain unclear, particularly for long-lived species. We tested for effects of helpers on early- and late-life traits in a population of reintroduced red wolves (Canis rufus), while controlling for ecological variables such as home-range size and population density. We found that the presence of helpers in family groups was positively correlated with pup mass and survival at low population density, but negatively correlated with mass/size at high density, with no relation to survival. Interestingly, mass/size differences persisted into adulthood for both sexes. While the presence of helpers did not advance age at first reproduction for pups of either sex, females appeared to garner long-term fitness benefits from helpers through later age at last reproduction, longer reproductive lifespan and a greater number of lifetime reproductive events, which translated to higher lifetime reproductive success. In contrast, males with helpers exhibited diminished lifetime reproductive performance. Our findings suggest that while helper presence may have beneficial short-term effects in some ecological contexts, it may also incur long-term sex-dependent costs with critical ramifications for lifetime fitness.
1. Life-history theorists have long observed that fast growth and high reproduction tend to be associated with short life span, suggesting that greater investment in such traits may trade off with self-maintenance. The immune system plays an integral role in self-maintenance and has been proposed as a mediator of life-history trade-offs. 2. Ecoimmunologists have predicted that fast-living organisms should rely more heavily on constitutive innate immunity than slow-living organisms, as constitutive innate defences are thought to be relatively inexpensive to develop and can provide a rapid, general response to pathogens. 3. We present the first study to examine this hypothesis in an ectothermic vertebrate, by testing for differences in three aspects of constitutive innate immunity in replicate populations of two life-history ecotypes of the garter snake Thamnophis elegans, one fast-living and one slow-living. 4. As predicted, free-ranging snakes from the fast-living ecotype had higher levels of all three measures of constitutive innate immunity than the slow-living ecotype. These differences in immunity were not explained by parasite loads measured. Furthermore, both ecotypes exhibited a positive relationship between innate immunity and body size/age, which we discuss in the context of ectotherm physiology and ecotype differences in developmental rates.
The endocrine system plays an integral role in the regulation of key life-history traits. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is a hormone that promotes growth and reproduction, and it has been implicated in the reduction of lifespan. IGF-1 is also capable of responding plastically to environmental stimuli such as resource availability and temperature. Thus pleiotropic control of life-history traits by IGF-1 could provide a mechanism for the evolution of correlated life-history traits in a new or changing environment. An ideal system in which to investigate the role of IGF-1 in life-history evolution exists in two ecotypes of the garter snake Thamnophis elegans, which derive from a single recent ancestral source but have evolved genetically divergent life-history characteristics. Snakes from meadow populations near Eagle Lake, California (USA) exhibit slower growth rates, lower annual reproductive output, and longer median adult lifespans relative to populations along the lakeshore. We hypothesized that the IGF-1 system has differentiated between these ecotypes and can account for increased growth and reproduction and reduced survival in lakeshore vs. meadow snakes. We tested for a difference in plasma IGF-1 levels in free-ranging snakes from replicate populations of each ecotype over three years. IGF-1 levels were significantly associated with adult body size, reproductive output, and season in a manner that reflects established differences in prey ecology and age/size-specific reproduction between the ecotypes. These findings are discussed in the context of theoretical expectations for a tradeoff between reproduction and lifespan that is mediated by pleiotropic endocrine mechanisms.
Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is a member of the vertebrate insulin/insulin-like growth factor/relaxin gene family necessary for growth, reproduction, and survival at both the cellular and organismal level. Its sequence, protein structure, and function have been characterized in mammals, birds, and fish; however, a notable gap in our current knowledge of the function of IGF-1 and its molecular evolution is information in ectothermic reptiles. To address this disparity, we sequenced the coding region of IGF-1 in 11 reptile species-one crocodilian, three turtles, three lizards, and four snakes. Complete sequencing of the full mRNA transcript of a snake revealed the Ea-isoform, the predominant isoform of IGF-1 also reported in other vertebrate groups. A gene tree of the IGF-1 protein-coding region that incorporated sequences from diverse vertebrate groups showed similarity to the species phylogeny, with the exception of the placement of Testudines as sister group to Aves, due to their high nucleotide sequence similarity. In contrast, long-branch lengths indicate more rapid divergence in IGF-1 among lizards and snakes. Additionally, lepidosaurs (i.e., lizards and snakes) had higher rates of non-synonymous:synonymous substitutions (dN/dS) relative to archosaurs (i.e., birds and crocodilians) and turtles. Tests for positive selection on specific codons within branches and evaluation of the changes in the amino acid properties, suggested positive selection in lepidosaurs on the C domain of IGF-1, which is involved in binding affinity to the IGF-1 receptor. Predicted structural changes suggest that major alterations in protein structure and function may have occurred in reptiles. These data propose new insights into the molecular co-evolution of IGF-1 and its receptors, and ultimately the evolution of IGF-1s role in regulating life-history traits across vertebrates.
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