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Tuesday, January 30 • 9:00am - 9:20am
SYMPOSIA-06: Can Turtles Serve as Bio-indicators of Environmental Health? Applications of Conservation Physiology in Midwestern Herpetology

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AUTHORS. Jeanine Refsnider, University of Toledo

ABSTRACT. Conservation physiology is an emerging field that seeks to understand organisms’ physiological responses to human alteration of the environment.  The goal of many conservation physiology studies is to provide a mechanistic understanding of how environmentally induced physiological responses – including metabolic, endocrinological, and immunological – can contribute to population declines.  In vertebrates, physiological stress levels are generally negatively correlated with immunocompetence.  Sudden and/or rapid environmental changes such as chemical spills, habitat degradation, or climate change that cause elevated physiological stress levels may also result in depressed immune function, thereby exacerbating the impacts of the environmental change on an individual’s health.  In a year-long common-garden experiment, we found that painted turtles from across the species’ geographic range did not exhibit significant increases in stress levels or decreases in immune competency in response to a novel climate.  In a separate study comparing males and females from a wild population during the nesting season, we found that the sexes did not differ in stress levels, but females had a greater immune response than males to a skin irritant.  Our results suggest that turtles are an exception to the general pattern across vertebrates that immune function is negatively correlated with stress levels.  Moreover, turtles may be relatively robust to modest changes in environmental conditions, suggesting that populations in which increases in stress levels or decreases in immune function are detected may already be in severe peril.  Finally, to stimulate collaborations into additional conservational physiology research across the Midwest, we highlight several other systems in which we are conducting similar research and describe our field methods for collecting samples used in subsequent laboratory assays.

Tuesday January 30, 2018 9:00am - 9:20am CST