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Identifying factors that influence stress physiology of the woylie, a critically endangered marsupial

Hing, S., Narayan, E.J., Thompson, R.C.A. and Godfrey, S.S. (2016) Identifying factors that influence stress physiology of the woylie, a critically endangered marsupial. Journal of Zoology, 302 (1). pp. 49-56.

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Faecal glucocorticoid metabolites are minimally invasive stress physiology indices that can be used to understand how animals respond to physical and/or psychological challenges (stressors) and inform how to optimize conservation management in view of these stressors. We investigated contextual biological, environmental and parasitological factors influencing variation in baseline faecal cortisol metabolite (FCM) concentration in a critically endangered marsupial, the woylie (syn. brush-tailed bettong, Bettongia penicillata). Woylies have undergone a rapid and significant population decline, with environmental stressors exacerbating disease suggested to contribute to these ongoing declines. We conducted a longitudinal field study of 15 adult woylies (9 females, 6 males) in a captive, naturalistic facility. FCM concentration in faecal samples (n = 269) collected monthly over 20 months was quantified by enzyme immunoassay in parallel with measures of body condition, sex, season, female reproductive status and the presence of endoparasites and ectoparasites. Linear mixed effect modelling revealed a significant effect of season, sex, body condition index and nematode parasite status on FCM. Overall, mean FCM was lowest in summer and highest in autumn and winter, and females had higher mean FCM than males. There was a significant but weak negative association between body condition and FCM. When woylies were shedding oxyurid nematode eggs they had higher mean FCM compared to when they were not shedding. In future, knowledge of factors that influence FCM fluctuations in woylies may be considered when carrying out potentially stressful conservation interventions that may influence the future survival of this unique and threatened species.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Copyright: © 2016 The Zoological Society of London
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