Adrenocortical stress responses influence an invasive vertebrate's fitness in an extreme environment

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Journal Article
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2013, 280 (1768)
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Continued range expansion into physiologically challenging environments requires invasive species to maintain adaptive phenotypic performance. The adrenocortical stress response, governed in part by glucocorticoid hormones, influences physiological and behavioural responses of vertebrates to environmental stressors. However, any adaptive role of this response in invasive populations that are expanding into extreme environments is currently unclear. We experimentally manipulated the adrenocortical stress response of invasive cane toads (Rhinella marina) to investigate its effect on phenotypic performance and fitness at the species' range front in the Tanami Desert, Australia. Here, toads are vulnerable to overheating and dehydration during the annual hot-dry season and display elevated plasma corticosterone levels indicative of severe environmental stress. By comparing unmanipulated control toads with toads whose adrenocortical stress response was manipulated to increase acute physiological stress responsiveness, we found that control toads had significantly reduced daily evaporative water loss and higher survival relative to the experimental animals. The adrenocortical stress response hence appears essential in facilitating complex phenotypic performance and setting fitness trajectories of individuals from invasive species during range expansion. © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
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