Physiological stress in wildlife can be a useful indicator of a population's response to environmental factors. By using noninvasive endocrinological techniques, such as fecal sampling, potential confounding factors associated with the stress of capture can be avoided. A potential drawback of fecal sampling, however, is degradation of samples which may produce aberrant measurements of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites. In vertebrates, glucocorticoids, such as corticosterone, become elevated in response to stress. We sought to gauge the reliability of measurement of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites from white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fecal samples exposed to a temperate winter with substantial snow cover and cold temperatures for up to 90 days, by repeatedly subsampling fecal samples every 10 days and performing a corticosterone enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Measurements of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites at 10 days were consistent with initial measurements, after which (20 days) they became aberrant following a period of thawing. Consequently, glucocorticoid metabolite levels in feces appear to remain stable under ambient conditions if temperatures remain below freezing at least for 10 days. While it's possible that samples may remain useful beyond this time frame based on previous laboratory studies of samples stored in a freezer, further work is needed to determine how samples weather in situ under extreme cold (e.g. Arctic) or periods of partial thawing.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program.
- Fecal glucocorticoids
- Sample degradation