Effects of weather and social factors on hormone levels in the European badger (Meles meles).
Sugianto NA., Newman C., Macdonald DW., Buesching CD.
Animals in the wild continually experience changes in environmental and social conditions, which they respond to with behavioural, physiological and morphological adaptations related to individual phenotypic quality. During unfavourable environmental conditions, reproduction can be traded-off against self-maintenance, mediated through changes in reproductive hormone levels. Using the European badger (Meles meles) as a model species, we examine how testosterone in males and oestrogens in females respond to marked deviations in weather from the long-term mean (rainfall and temperature, where badger earthworm food supply is weather dependent), and to social factors (number of adult males and females per social group and total adults in the population), in relation to age, weight and head-body length. Across seasons, testosterone levels correlated postively with body weight and rainfall variability, whereas oestrone correlated positively with population density, but negatively with temperature variability. Restricting analyses to the mating season (spring), heavier males had higher testosterone levels and longer females had higher oestradiol levels. Spring oestrone levels were lower when temperatures were above normal. That we see these effects for this generally adaptive species with a broad bioclimatic niche serves to highlight that climatic effects (especially with the threat of anthropogenic climate change) on reproductive physiology warrant careful attention in a conservation context.