Declines in amphibian populations are due to an array of anthropogenic and natural factors requiring a need to detect and monitor populations that are either in decline or at risk of decline. Physiological biomarkers, such as glucocorticoid stress hormones, present a viable option to monitor stress levels and, thus, the physiological health of vertebrate populations. We performed preliminary experiments necessary for the use of water-borne hormone assays to measure corticosterone (CORT) as an assessment of aspects of chronic stress for the management and conservation of three species of aquatic salamanders in central Texas (Eurycea, Plethodontidae). We examined the time for CORT levels to peak in response to capture and handling in populations of E. nana, E. sosorum, and E. tonkawae. Peak CORT release rates differed among species, with peak releases generally occurring in under 3 h. This highlights the need to obtain a timeline for CORT to mount so that peak rates are captured during the leaching phase. We also examined the responsiveness of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal (HPI) axis using an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) challenge or exposure to an external stressor (agitation). Eurycea sosorum (one population) and E. tonkawae showed HPI responsiveness. To examine the relationship between field and laboratory CORT release rates, we compared baseline CORT release rates between captive and wild-caught populations of all three species. Once the preliminary studies have been performed, water-borne CORT release rates can be an effective biomarker to monitor whether a population is experiencing chronic stress. Water-borne hormone collection also allows for repeated sampling of individuals over time. Our experiments provide a foundation for future studies relating stress to HPI responsiveness in aquatic Eurycea, which, in turn, will help inform management of both wild and captive populations.
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Vol. 104 • No. 1