Testing the predation stress hypothesis: behavioural and hormonal responses to predator cues in Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders

in Behaviour
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The predation stress hypothesis posits that exposure to predators and/or predator cues causes release of glucocorticoid hormones which coordinate behavioural responses that facilitate predator avoidance. We measured responses to short-term and repeated exposure to predator-derived kairomones in Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus). Salamanders expressed predator avoidance behaviours (reduced locomotion, reduced mating behaviour) in the presence of predator kairomones. However, plasma glucocorticoids after short-term exposure to predator kairomones were similar to levels after exposure to controls. After repeated exposure to predator-derived kairomones, locomotory activity and plasma glucocorticoids were similar compared to controls. There was no evidence of habituation to predator kairomones. Overall, results did not support the predation stress hypothesis in Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders in either an acute or chronic context. Use of glucocorticoids to mediate antipredator responses may occur when predation pressure is unpredictable, and when energetic and opportunity costs of linking glucocorticoids to anti-predator responses are low.

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Figures

  • Activity of male and female Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders tested in the presence of non-predator kairomones or predator kairomones for 1 h. An asterisk indicates that predator kairomone exposure significantly decreased activity levels in both males and females, p=0.002.

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  • Plasma CORT levels of male and female Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders exposed for 45 min to either non-predator kairomones or predator kairomones. No significant difference in CORT levels between the two treatments was present. Sample sizes are indicated within bars.

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  • Plasma CORT levels of male Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders exposed to either non-predator kairomones or predator kairomones for either 30 min or 3 h. No significant differences in CORT levels among the treatments were present. Sample sizes are indicated within bars.

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  • Activity of male and female Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders after prolonged exposure to predator kairomones. Subjects were either left undisturbed (no treatment) or were exposed to non-predator kairomones or predator kairomones every day for at least 10 days. Then, activity was measured in the presence of predator kairomones or non-predator kairomones. Although there was no significant effect of prior, prolonged treatment on activity, activity was reduced when tested in the presence of predator rinses compared to non-predator rinses (p=0.001).

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  • Plasma CORT levels of male and female Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders after prolonged exposure to predator kairomones. Sample sizes are within bars. Subjects were either left undisturbed (no treatment) or were exposed to either non-predator kairomones or predator kairomones every day for at least 10 days. On the final day, subjects were exposed to either non-predator kairomones or predator kairomones and blood was collected 45 min later. There was no effect of prior, prolonged treatment on CORT levels, nor was there an effect of the short-term, acute exposure to predator kairomones compared to non-predator kairomones.

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