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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2008 Feb;294(2):R614-22. Epub 2007 Dec 19.

Seasonal glucocorticoid responses to capture in wild free-living mammals.

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Department of Biology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA.


We determined baseline and capture-induced glucocorticoid concentrations during two different seasons in three species of wild free-living rodents: brown lemmings (Lemmus trimucronatus), golden-mantled ground squirrels (Spermophilus saturatus), and yellow-pine chipmunks (Tamias amoenus). Initial blood samples were obtained within 3 min of capture, so that initial glucocorticoid levels reflect baseline titers of undisturbed animals. Animals were held for an additional 30 min, when a second blood sample was taken to measure stress-induced glucocorticoid titers. The primary glucocorticoid differed in each species. Lemmings secreted extremely large amounts of corticosterone (as high as 8,000 ng/ml). These high concentrations were accompanied by high corticosterone-binding globulin capacity and resistance to negative feedback. Squirrels and chipmunks secreted a mixture of cortisol and corticosterone (10-400 ng/ml). In males of all three species and female squirrels and chipmunks, glucocorticoid levels were significantly elevated 30 min after capture. Baseline and 30-min glucocorticoid levels differed seasonally in each species. Levels were higher during summer (with no snow cover) than in spring (with approximately 60% snow cover) in female lemmings, higher during breeding than before hibernation in squirrels, and higher postreproductively than during breeding in chipmunks. Together, these data indicate that glucocorticoid responses to stress in these free-living species are similar to those in laboratory species, but the magnitude of the response appears to depend on life-history features specific to each species.

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