Effects of Exposure, Diet, and Thermoregulation on Fecal Glucocorticoid Measures in Wild Bears

Stetz, Jeff; Hunt, Kathleen; Kendall, Katherine C.; Wasser, Samuel K.
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
We examined fecal glucocorticoid (fGC) measures of nutrition and thermoregulatory demands on wild bears in Glacier National Park, Montana, and assessed how these measures changed in samples left in the field. Both ambient temperature and exposure can impact thermoregulation and sample degradation. Bear diets vary markedly with season, affecting body condition and thus fGC. We collected fecal samples during September and October, 2001, when ambient temperatures ranged from 30°C to −5°C. We collected half of each sample immediately and left the other half in its original location for 1–28 days. We used generalized linear models (GLM) to first predict fGC concentrations in fresh samples based on proxies of nutrition, ambient temperature, thermal exposure, and precipitation. These same covariates were then used to predict degradation-based differences in fGC concentrations between the paired sample halves. Variation in fGC was predicted by diet, Julian date, aspect, and the interaction between Julian date and aspect in both fresh and exposed samples. Cumulative precipitation was also a significant predictor of fGC concentrations in the exposed samples, independent of time, indicating that precipitation contributes to sample degradation but not enough to mask effects of other environmental factors on fGC concentrations. Differences between sample halves were only predicted by cumulative precipitation and exposure time; cumulative precipitation decreased, whereas exposure time increased, fGC concentrations in the exposed sample halves. Results indicate that fGC can provide reliable indices of nutrition and thermoregulatory demands in bears and that sample degradation impacts on these relations are minimal and can be virtually eliminated by controlling for cumulative precipitation over the estimated exposure times.


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