Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Time-dependent effects of predation risk on stressor reactivity and growth in developing larval anurans (Lithobates pipiens)
The predator vs. prey dynamic is an omnipresent factor in ecological systems that may drive changes in life history patterns in prey animals through behavioural, morphological, and physiological changes. Predation risk can have profound effects on the life history events of an animal, and is influenced by the neuroendocrine stress response. Activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal/interrenal axis, and the induction of stress hormones (e.g., corticosterone (CORT)) have been shown to mediate the onset of inducible anti-predator defensive traits including increased tail-depth, and reduced activity. The predator-prey relationship between dragonfly nymphs and tadpoles can be a powerful model system for understanding mechanisms that facilitate changes in the stress response in accordance with altered severity of risk. It has been well demonstrated early in tadpole ontogeny that increased corticosterone (CORT) levels, observed within three weeks of predator exposure, are correlated with increased tail depth morphology. However, the reactivity of the stress response in relation to the growth modulation in developing prey has yet to be fully explored. Accordingly, this thesis assessed the stress and growth response processes in tadpoles that were continuously exposed to perceived predation risk later in ontogeny. Continuous exposure of prey to predation risk for three weeks significantly increased CORT levels, and tail depth. However, tadpoles exposed to six weeks of predation risk acclimated to the presence of the predator, which was observed as a significant reduction of stressor-induced CORT levels. In addition, although increased tail depth has been attributed to predator defense, predator-naïve tadpoles began to display similar tail depth morphology as treated tadpoles at the six week time point. Thus, this thesis suggests that the stress response in lower vertebrate systems (e.g., tadpoles) may operate in a similarly complex manner to that observed in higher vertebrates (e.g., rats), for which severity of risk associated with the stressor aids in defining activity of the stress response. Moreover, the lack of morphological difference between treatments among tadpoles exposed later in ontogeny suggests that the mechanisms for inducing defenses are normal morphological traits in the development of the animal. This thesis paves the way for future research to elucidate the relationship between the neuroendocrine stress response and hormonal pathways involved in growth modulation in the presence of environmental pressures. Author Keywords: Acclimation, Corticosterone, Growth Modulation, Predation Risk, R. pipiens, Tadpole

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