Pond Acidification May Explain Differences in Corticosterone among Salamander Populations
Chambers, D. L.
Wojdak, J. M.
Belden, L. K.
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Physiological tolerances play a key role in determining species distributions and abundance across a landscape, and understanding these tolerances can therefore be useful in predicting future changes in species distributions that might occur. Vertebrates possess several highly conserved physiological mechanisms for coping with environmental stressors, including the hormonal stress response that involves an endocrine cascade resulting in the increased production of glucocorticoids. We examined the function of this endocrine axis by assessing both baseline and acute stress-induced concentrations of corticosterone in larvae from eight natural breeding populations of Jefferson's salamander Ambystoma jeffersonianum. We surveyed individuals from each pond and also examined a variety of environmental pond parameters. We found that baseline and stress-induced corticosterone concentrations differed significantly among ponds. Population-level baseline corticosterone concentrations were negatively related to pH and positively related to nitrate, and stress-induced concentrations were again negatively related to pH, positively related to nitrate, and positively related to temperature. We followed the field survey with an outdoor mesocosm experiment in which we manipulated pH and again examined baseline and acute stress-induced corticosterone in A. jeffersonianum larvae. As in the field survey, we observed an increase in the baseline corticosterone concentration of individuals exposed to the lowest pH treatment (pH 5-5.8). Examining physiological indices using a combined approach of field surveys and experiments can be a powerful tool for trying to unravel the complexities of environmental impacts on species distributions.