Evaluation of physiological stress in Australian wildlife: embracing pioneering and current knowledge as a guide to future research directions.
Australia has a rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity and high species endemism. However, the oceanic continent is facing the biodiversity extinction crisis. The primary factors are anthropogenic induced environmental changes, including wildlife habitat destruction through urbanisation and predation by feral animals (e.g. red foxes and feral cats), increased severity of diseases (e.g. chytridiomycosis and chlamydia), and increased occurrence of summer heat waves and bush fires. Stress physiology is a dynamic field of science based on the studies of endocrine system functioning in animals. The primary stress regulator is the hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (interrenal) axis and glucocorticoids (corticosterone and/or cortisol) provide stress index across vertebrate groups. This review paper focuses on physiological stress assessments in Australian wildlife using examples of amphibians, reptiles, birds and marsupials. I provide a thorough discussion of pioneering studies that have shaped the field of stress physiology in Australian wildlife species. The main findings point towards key aspects of stress endocrinology research, such as quantification of biologically active levels of glucocorticoids, development of species-specific GC assays and applications of stress physiology approaches in field ecology and wildlife conservation programs. Furthermore, I also discuss the importance of chronic stress assessment in wildlife populations. Finally, I provide a conceptual framework presenting key research questions in areas of wildlife stress physiology research. In conclusion, wildlife management programs can immensely benefit from stress physiology assessments to gauge the impact of human interventions on wildlife such as species translocation and feral species eradication.