Throughout the animal kingdom there are species that have two or more phenotypic forms or ‘morphs’, and many of these are amphibians. In North America, the red-backed salamander Plethodon cinereus can have either a red dorsal stripe or no dorsal stripe (lead-phase form), and evidence to date indicates the lead-phase form incurs a greater number of attacks from predators. In a recent collection of 51 P. cinereus, blood smears of both color morphs (35 red-stripe, 16 lead-phase) were examined to obtain numbers of circulating leukocytes (via light microscopy), which can be used to indirectly estimate levels of stress hormones in vertebrates via a ‘hematological stress index’, which is the ratio between the number of two leukocyte types (neutrophils and lymphocytes). Our results showed that lead-phase salamanders tended to have greater numbers of circulating neutrophils and lower numbers of circulating lymphocytes than red-stripe morphs, leading to higher average neutrophil-lymphocyte ratios in lead-phase individuals. Since the salamanders were held (refrigerated) for 7 days before sampling, we cannot be certain if this effect is a stress reaction to the captivity or the normal level for this morph. However comparison with two sets of related salamanders that were captured and sampled immediately indicates the red-stripe salamanders were either not stressed from the captivity at all, or their white blood cell distributions had returned to normal after 7 days of captivity. Taken together, our results indicate that lead-phase forms of P. cinereus have higher stress levels than the red-stripe forms, which may be a consequence of their higher exposure to, and/or attacks from, predators. They may also indicate that the lead-phase form is less-suited to captivity than the red-stripe form of this species.
Davis A.K., and Milanovich J.R. 2010. "Lead-phase and red-stripe color morphs of red-backed salamanders Plethodon cinereus differ in hematological stress indices: A consequence of differential predation pressure?" Current Zoology, 56 (2), p. 238-243.
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