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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2018 Dec 1;269:11-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.07.007. Epub 2018 Aug 1.

The role of glucocorticoids in the vertebrate response to weather.

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Department of Biology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Biology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA. Electronic address:


Changes in the environment related to inclement weather can threaten survival and reproductive success both through direct adverse exposure and indirectly by decreasing food availability. Glucocorticoids, released during activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis as part of the stress response, are an important candidate for linking vertebrate coping mechanisms to weather. This review attempts to determine if there is a consensus response of glucocorticoids to exposure to weather-related stimuli, including food availability, precipitation, temperature and barometric pressure. The included studies cover field and laboratory studies for all vertebrate taxa, and are separated into four exposure periods, e.g., hours, days, weeks and months. Each reported result was assigned a score based on the glucocorticoid response, e.g., increased, no change, or decreased. Short-term exposure to weather-related stimuli, of up to 24 h, is generally associated with increased glucocorticoids (79% of studies), suggesting that these stimuli are perceived as stressors by most animals. In contrast, the pattern for exposures longer than 24 h shows more variation, even though a majority of studies still report an increase (64%). Lack of glucocorticoid increases appeared to result from instances where: (1) prolonged exposure was a predictable part of the life history of an animal; (2) environmental context was important for the ultimate effect of a stimulus (e.g., precipitation limited food availability in one environment, but increased food in another); (3) prolonged exposure induced chronic stress; and (4) long-term responses appeared to reflect adaptations to seasonal shifts, instead of to short-term weather. However, there is a strong bias towards studies in domesticated laboratory species and wild animals held in captivity, indicating a need for field studies, especially in reptiles and amphibians. In conclusion, the accumulated literature supports the hypothesis that glucocorticoids can serve as the physiological mechanism promoting fitness during inclement weather.


Cold; Corticosterone; Cortisol; Heat; Rain; Starvation

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