One of the most comprehensively studied responses to stressors in vertebrates is the endogenous production and regulation of glucocorticoids (GCs). Extensive laboratory research using experimental elevation of GCs in model species is instrumental in learning about stressor-induced physiological and behavioural mechanisms; however, such studies fail to inform our understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes in the wild. We reviewed emerging research that has used GC manipulations in wild vertebrates to assess GC-mediated effects on survival, physiology, behaviour, reproduction and offspring quality. Within and across taxa, exogenous manipulation of GCs increased, decreased or had no effect on traits examined in the reviewed studies. The notable diversity in responses to GC manipulation could be associated with variation in experimental methods, inherent differences among species, morphs, sexes and age classes, and the ecological conditions in which responses were measured. In their current form, results from experimental studies may be applied to animal conservation on a case-bycase basis in contexts such as threshold-based management. We discuss ways to integrate mechanistic explanations for changes in animal abundance in altered environments with functional applications that inform conservation practitioners of which species and traits may be most responsive to environmental change or human disturbance. Experimental GC manipulation holds promise for determining mechanisms underlying fitness impairment and population declines. Future work in this area should examine multiple life-history traits, with consideration of individual variation and, most importantly, validation of GC manipulations within naturally occurring and physiologically relevant ranges.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Corticosterone, Cortisol, Endocrinology, Hormone, Life history, Stress
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1093/conphys/cov031
Journal Conservation Physiology
Citation
Sopinka, N.M. (Natalie M.), Patterson, L.D. (Lucy D.), Redfern, J.C. (Julia C.), Pleizier, N.K. (Naomi K.), Belanger, C.B. (Cassia B.), Midwood, J.D. (Jon D.), … Cooke, S.J. (2015). Manipulating glucocorticoids in wild animals: Basic and applied perspectives. Conservation Physiology (Vol. 3). doi:10.1093/conphys/cov031