Non-invasive assessment of stress hormones, parasites, and diet, using scat of five felid species in Belize, Central America

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Virginia Tech

Many Neotropical felid species, such as jaguars, are threatened with extinction due to habitat fragmentation and/or human persecution. Human activities around protected areas in Belize, Central America, are increasing and so are levels of human-felid conflict. Potential consequences of this conflict are an increase in stress impacting health, diet shifts, or heightening of animal aggression. The goal of this work was to assess the effects of human-modified habitats on native felids by comparing fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations, endoparasite species richness (ESR), and diet using non-invasive scat sampling in a protected forest vs. surrounding non-protected areas in Belize. Field studies relying on non-invasive fecal hormone monitoring are subject to potential hormone degradation in samples exposed to the environment. Therefore I conducted immunoassay and environmental validations for measuring FGM in jaguars (Panthera onca).

In the field, I collected scat using a detector dog, identified samples using DNA, retrieved parasite propagules with a flotation technique, and identified prey remains by morphology. I detected five felids: jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarundi and domestic cat. FGM concentrations were higher in pumas and jaguarundis than in the other felids. I found no livestock remains in felid scats. ESR was similar across felid species. Domestic cats were found only in human-modified areas. This results provide a baseline on adrenal activity, prey consumption, and endoparasites in felids of Belize. These findings could be used for comparisons to populations thought to be affected by human activities across Belize and in neighboring countries.

non-invasive, Neotropical felids, Belize, fecal glucocorticoids, diet, endoparasites