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Conserv Physiol. 2013 May 24;1(1):cot011. doi: 10.1093/conphys/cot011. eCollection 2013.

Non-invasive reproductive and stress endocrinology in amphibian conservation physiology.

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Environmental Futures Centre, School of Environment, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, QLD 4222, Australia.


Non-invasive endocrinology utilizes non-invasive biological samples (such as faeces, urine, hair, aquatic media, and saliva) for the quantification of hormones in wildlife. Urinary-based enzyme immunoassay (EIA) and radio-immunoassay have enabled the rapid quantification of reproductive and stress hormones in amphibians (Anura: Amphibia). With minimal disturbance, these methods can be used to assess the ovarian and testicular endocrine functions as well as physiological stress in captive and free-living populations. Non-invasive endocrine monitoring has therefore greatly advanced our knowledge of the functioning of the stress endocrine system (the hypothalamo-pituitary-interrenal axis) and the reproductive endocrine system (the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis) in the amphibian physiological stress response, reproductive ecology, health and welfare, and survival. Biological (physiological) validation is necessary for obtaining the excretory lag time of hormone metabolites. Urinary-based EIA for the major reproductive hormones, estradiol and progesterone in females and testosterone in males, can be used to track the reproductive hormone profiles in relationship to reproductive behaviour and environmental data in free-living anurans. Urinary-based corticosterone metabolite EIA can be used to assess the sublethal impacts of biological stressors (such as invasive species and pathogenic diseases) as well as anthropogenic induced environmental stressors (e.g. extreme temperatures) on free-living populations. Non-invasive endocrine methods can also assist in the diagnosis of success or failure of captive breeding programmes by measuring the longitudinal patterns of changes in reproductive hormones and corticosterone within captive anurans and comparing the endocrine profiles with health records and reproductive behaviour. This review paper focuses on the reproductive and the stress endocrinology of anurans and demonstrates the uses of non-invasive endocrinology for advancing amphibian conservation physiology. It also provides key technical considerations for future research that will increase the accuracy and reliability of the data and the value of non-invasive endocrinology within the conceptual framework of conservation physiology.


Amphibians; conservation physiology; ecological applications; non-invasive endocrinology; reproduction; stress

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