Physiological responses to elevated temperature across the geographic range of a terrestrial salamander [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Alexander J. Novarro, Caitlin R. Gabor, Cory B. Goff, Tori D. Mezebish, Lily M. Thompson, and Kristine L. Grayson

Widespread species often possess physiological mechanisms for coping with thermal heterogeneity, and uncovering these mechanisms provides insight into species’ responses to climate change. The emergence of non-invasive corticosterone (CORT) assays allows us to rapidly assess physiological responses to environmental change on a large scale. We lack, however, a basic understanding of how temperature affects CORT, and whether temperature and CORT interactively affect performance. Here, we examined the effects of elevated temperature on CORT and whole-organism performance in a terrestrial salamander, Plethodon cinereus, across a latitudinal gradient. Using water-borne hormone assays, we found that raising ambient temperature from 15 to 25°C increased CORT release at a similar rate for salamanders from all sites. However, CORT release rates were higher overall in the warmest, southernmost site. Elevated temperatures also affected physiological performance, but the effects differed among sites. Ingestion rate increased in salamanders from the warmer sites but remained the same for those from cooler sites. Mass gain was reduced for most individuals, although this reduction was more dramatic in salamanders from the cooler sites. We also found a temperature-dependent relationship between CORT and food conversion efficiency (i.e. the amount of mass gained per unit food ingested). CORT was negatively related to food conversion efficiency at 25°C but was unrelated at 15°C. Thus, the energetic gains of elevated ingestion rates may be counteracted by elevated CORT release rates experienced by salamanders in warmer environments. By integrating multiple physiological metrics, we highlight the complex relationships between temperature and individual responses to warming climates.

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