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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2015 Dec 1;224:104-12. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2015.06.014. Epub 2015 Jul 2.

Non-invasive monitoring of adrenocortical activity in captive African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) by measuring faecal glucocorticoid metabolites.

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Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, University of Turin, Via Accademia Albertina 13, 1023 Turin, Italy. Electronic address:
Department of Chemistry, University of Turin, Via Pietro Giuria 5, 10125 Turin, Italy.
Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, University of Turin, Via Accademia Albertina 13, 1023 Turin, Italy.


Measurement of faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGMs) has become a useful and widely-accepted method for the non-invasive evaluation of stress in vertebrates. In this study we assessed the adrenocortical activity of five captive African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) by means of FGM evaluation following a biological stressor, i.e. capture and immobilization. In addition, we detected individual differences in secretion of FGMs during a stage of the normal biological cycle of penguins, namely the breeding period, without any external or induced causes of stress. Our results showed that FGM concentrations peaked 5.5-8h after the induced stress in all birds, and significantly decreased within 30 h. As predictable, the highest peak of FGMs (6591 ng/g) was reached by the youngest penguin, which was at its first experience with the stressor. This peak was 1.8-2.7-fold higher compared to those of the other animals habituated to the stimulus. For the breeding period, our results revealed that the increase in FGMs compared to ordinary levels, and the peaks of FGMs, varied widely depending on the age and mainly on the reproductive state of the animal. The bird which showed the lowest peak (2518 ng/g) was an old male that was not in a reproductive state at the time of the study. Higher FGM increases and peaks were reached by the two birds which were brooding (male: 5552%, 96,631 ng/g; female: 1438%, 22,846 ng/g) and by the youngest bird (1582%, 39,700 ng/g). The impact of the reproductive state on FGM levels was unexpected compared to that produced by the induced stress. The EIA used in this study to measure FGM levels proved to be a reliable tool for assessing individual and biologically-relevant changes in FGM concentrations in African Penguin. Moreover, this method allowed detection of physiological stress during the breeding period, and identification of individual differences in relation to the reproductive status. The increase in FGM levels as a response to capture and immobilization suggests that the measured metabolites are appropriate indicators of adrenal activity in these birds.


African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus); Biological validation; Breeding; Corticosterone; Faecal glucocorticoid metabolites; Stress

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