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Using Stress as a Tool in Conservation

We currently have several projects exploring how the stress response might help animals survive human-created habitat disturbances. This work is part of the emerging field of Conservation Physiology and is forming an increasing percentage of our effort.

We have completed several collaborations with Martin Wikelski at Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. In one project, we examined the stress responses of free-living Galapagos marine iguanas to a variety of environmental stressors. Our primary work explored how iguanas survive the effects of El Niño, but we were also interested in how these animals respond to tourism, to recently-introduced predators, and to an oil spill that fouled the iguana’s food supply.

A second completed collaboration with Martin Wikelski included Tim Hayden of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. We studied whether military training activities at Ft. Hood, Texas, created stress in three species of birds that live on the base, two of which are endangered. This project integrated glucocorticoid and fight-or-flight responses to understand what causes stress in these species and whether military activities elicit stress responses.

We also completed a series of projects with Dave Delehanty at University of Idaho. We tested whether translocation in chukar, an introduced bird of the Mojave Desert, elicits a stress response. Translocation efforts have poor success rates and we used chukar as a model to show that translocation relies upon chronically stressed animals.

Ongoing projects include collaborations with Michael Reed in our department and Nina Fefferman at University of Tennessee. We have been focusing on whether the changes in corticosterone responses during molt in birds can affect their survival and how stress responses might alter the chance of species persistance.