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Conserv Physiol. 2018 Jun 19;6(1):coy029. doi: 10.1093/conphys/coy029. eCollection 2018.

The conservation physiology toolbox: status and opportunities.

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Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Department of Biology and Institute of Environmental Science, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Dr., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Ave., Ontario, Canada.
Department of Research, Conservation and Collections, Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ, USA.


For over a century, physiological tools and techniques have been allowing researchers to characterize how organisms respond to changes in their natural environment and how they interact with human activities or infrastructure. Over time, many of these techniques have become part of the conservation physiology toolbox, which is used to monitor, predict, conserve, and restore plant and animal populations under threat. Here, we provide a summary of the tools that currently comprise the conservation physiology toolbox. By assessing patterns in articles that have been published in 'Conservation Physiology' over the past 5 years that focus on introducing, refining and validating tools, we provide an overview of where researchers are placing emphasis in terms of taxa and physiological sub-disciplines. Although there is certainly diversity across the toolbox, metrics of stress physiology (particularly glucocorticoids) and studies focusing on mammals have garnered the greatest attention, with both comprising the majority of publications (>45%). We also summarize the types of validations that are actively being completed, including those related to logistics (sample collection, storage and processing), interpretation of variation in physiological traits and relevance for conservation science. Finally, we provide recommendations for future tool refinement, with suggestions for: (i) improving our understanding of the applicability of glucocorticoid physiology; (ii) linking multiple physiological and non-physiological tools; (iii) establishing a framework for plant conservation physiology; (iv) assessing links between environmental disturbance, physiology and fitness; (v) appreciating opportunities for validations in under-represented taxa; and (vi) emphasizing tool validation as a core component of research programmes. Overall, we are confident that conservation physiology will continue to increase its applicability to more taxa, develop more non-invasive techniques, delineate where limitations exist, and identify the contexts necessary for interpretation in captivity and the wild.


Tools; biomarker; glucocorticoid; techniques; validation

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