Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) are increasingly subject to multiple new stressors associated with unprecedented climate change and increased anthropogenic activities across much of their range. Hair may provide a measurement of stress hormones (glucocorticoids) over periods of weeks to months. We developed a reliable method to quantify cortisol in the qiviut (wooly undercoat) of muskoxen using liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry. We then applied this technique to determine the natural variability in qiviut cortisol levels among 150 wild muskoxen, and to assess differences between sexes, seasons and years of collection. Qiviut samples were collected from the rump of adult muskoxen by subsistence and sport hunters in seven different locations in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories between 2013 and 2016. Results showed a high inter-individual variability in qiviut cortisol concentrations, with levels ranging from 3.5 to 48.9 pg/mg (median 11.7 pg/mg). Qiviut cortisol levels were significantly higher in males than females, and varied seasonally (summer levels were significantly lower than in fall and winter), and by year (levels significantly increased from 2013 to 2015). These differences may reflect distinct environmental conditions and the diverse stressors experienced, as well as physiological and/or behavioural characteristics. Quantification of qiviut cortisol may serve as a valuable tool for monitoring health and informing conservation and management efforts.
Cites: Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2006 Jul;147(3):255-6116483573
Cites: J Comp Physiol B. 2012 Oct;182(7):985-9622592890