Amphibian responses to stress are generally mediated through glucocorticoids produced by the hypothalamic–pituitary–interrenal axis. Chronic elevation of glucocorticoids can result in delayed wound healing and growth, but less is known about its influence on behavioral responses to predators. We examined the effect of acute and chronic CORT elevation on exploratory and foraging behaviors of Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) exposed to kairomones from a predatory snake. We established ‘No CORT,' ‘Acute CORT,' and ‘Chronic CORT’ conditions during an 18-d preparation phase by varying salamander exposure to an exogenous source of CORT (0.51 mg/mL) delivered via cutaneous patch. During the trial phase, we conducted assays to evaluate exploratory and foraging behavior of salamanders from the different CORT groups when exposed to snake kairomones or control. Exploratory behavior was examined within a circular arena with a series of surmountable concentric barriers, and foraging behavior was observed within Petri dishes containing Drosophila prey. Salamanders experiencing both Chronic CORT and snake kairomones exhibited the least exploratory behavior, escaped the array with the lowest frequency, climbed the fewest barriers, and delayed their movement. However, foraging behavior (latency to strike at prey, number of strikes, number of prey captured) was not affected by exposure to CORT or snake kairomone. Our findings suggest that artificially elevated CORT can modify some behavioral responses to predator kairomones, but only when individuals experience multiple CORT applications in the period preceding the trials.
Sullivan, Aaron M.; Kratzer, Ian E.; Jobe, Seanna C.; and Lewis, Jacquelyn L., "Combined Effects of Experimentally Elevated CORT and Predation Threat on Exploratory and Foraging Behavior of Desmognathus ochrophaeus" (2021). Faculty Publications - Department of Biological & Molecular Science. 149.