Physiological processes serve as a mechanistic driver of many observed ecological patterns, and stress physiology is a particularly important as stress levels can impact and even suppress other vital processes such as reproduction, growth, and immune function. My goal is to determine the role of environmental gradients in driving variation in the stress hormone, Corticosterone (CORT). I am interested in how environmental gradients affect spatial variation in CORT as well as how climate change may impact and/or change stress responses. I have done in-field measures and experimental trials whereby salamanders were exposing to challenging temperature and humidity conditions to understand climate change effects.
I am also continuing the development of a new method for collecting CORT using dermal swabs. Traditional methods including blood draws and water-borne assays, are not only inherently stressful to the individuals but also time-intensive and limited in the number of measurements on a single individual. The dermal swab methodology allows rapid and repeated measurement of CORT. Earlier work by other researchers preliminarily validated this method, and I, in collaboration with Dr. Chris Tonra at Ohio State University, am working to further validate and implement the method. Our goals are that dermal swabbing will become more widespread to monitor the population health of many amphibian species. We are beginning to apply these methods to other amphibians including wood frogs and smaller plethodontid species in different regions.
Check out the video below for more details on these methods. The video was created by Nicole Cook, and intern at Highlands Biological Station, and can be viewed in full at the station's nature center.