The stress axis in teleost fish attempts to maintain internal homeostasis in the face of allostatic loading. However, stress axis induction has been associated with a higher predation rate in fish. To date, the physiological and behavioral factors associated with this outcome are poorly understood. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the impact of experimental cortisol elevation on anti-predator behavior and physiological responses to predator presence. We hypothesized that semi-chronic cortisol elevation would increase susceptibility to predation by increasing stress-induced risk-taking behaviors. To test this hypothesis, schoolmaster snapper were given cocoa butter implants without cortisol (sham) or with cortisol (50 mg/kg body weight) and tethered to cover. Fish were exposed to either a lemon shark or control conditions for 15-min. Space use and activity were recorded throughout and fish were terminally sampled for blood. Cortisol implantation, relative to shams, resulted in higher blood glucose and plasma cortisol concentrations with a lower plasma lactate concentration. Shark exposure, relative to controls, elicited higher blood glucose and lactate concentrations but had no effect on plasma cortisol concentration. No interactions were detected between shark exposure and cortisol treatment for any physiological trait. Behavioral metrics, including shelter use and activity, were unaffected by either cortisol implantation or shark exposure. Physiological responses to cortisol implantation likely resulted from enhanced gluconeogenic activity, whereas alterations under predator exposure may have been the product of catecholamine mobilization. Further work should address context-specific influences of stress in mediating behavioral responses to predation.

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Keywords homeostatic overload, lemon shark, predation, refuging, stress axis, teleost physiology
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Journal Integrative Zoology
Lawrence, M.J. (Michael J.), Eliason, E.J. (Erika J.), Brownscombe, J.W. (Jacob W.), Gilmour, K.M. (Kathleen M.), Mandelman, J.W. (John W.), Gutowsky, L.F.G. (Lee F.G.), & Cooke, S.J. (2018). Influence of supraphysiological cortisol manipulation on predator avoidance behaviors and physiological responses to a predation threat in a wild marine teleost fish. Integrative Zoology, 13(2), 206–218. doi:10.1111/1749-4877.12282