Effect of captivity in semi-natural enclosures on the reproductive endocrinology of female lizards

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General and Comparative Endocrinology




Long-term captivity can result in abnormal behavior and physiology in many vertebrates. Here, we examine whether semi-natural, outdoor captive environments can offer a compromise, allowing much of the experimental control afforded by captivity, while providing the environmental conditions essential for normal behavior and physiology. We first determined plasma concentration of the sex steroid hormones progesterone, testosterone, and estradiol of free-ranging female striped plateau lizards (Sceloporus virgatus) throughout the reproductive season, and second, compared the results to those from conspecific females maintained in semi-natural outdoor enclosures. Among free-ranging females, levels of progesterone and estradiol were elevated during vitellogenesis, with an apparent surge in progesterone and testosterone occurring in association with ovulation. Following ovulation, estradiol fell to non-reproductive levels while progesterone remained elevated during the month-long period of gravidity. Long-term captivity in outdoor enclosures did not significantly affect progesterone or estradiol levels at any stage of the reproductive cycle, and did not affect testosterone levels during normal ovarian development and gravidity. However, (1) females with delayed oviposition in captivity had lower testosterone levels than free-ranging females with normal oviposition, and (2) when all females sampled were post-reproductive, captive females continued to have lower testosterone levels than free-ranging females. Thus, the endocrine response to captivity may be greater among post-reproductivefemales than among reproductivefemales. Our results are in marked contrast to many studies that show captivity can dramatically impair reproduction of female vertebrates.