In vertebrates, many responses to stress as well as homeostatic maintenance of basal metabolism are regulated by plasma glucocorticoid hormones (GCs). Despite having crucial functions, levels of GCs are typically variable among individuals. We examined the contribution of several physiological factors to individual variation in plasma corticosterone (CORT) and the number of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) neurons in the magnocellular preoptic area of the brain in free-living Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders. We addressed three hypotheses: the current-condition hypothesis, the facilitation hypothesis, and the trade-off hypothesis. Differential white blood cell counts were identified as strong contributors to individual variation in baseline CORT, stress-induced CORT, and the number of CRH neurons. In contrast, we found no relationship between corticosterone (or CRH) and body condition, energy stores, or reproductive investment, providing no support for the current-condition hypothesis or the trade-off hypothesis involving reproduction. Due to the difficulties of interpreting the functional consequences of differences in white blood cell differentials, we were unable to distinguish between the facilitation hypothesis or the trade-off hypothesis related to immune function. However, the strong association between white blood cell differentials and HPA/I activation suggests that a more thorough examination of immune profiles is critical to understanding variation in HPA/I activation.
- Received September 15, 2016.
- Accepted January 9, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd