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Current Zoology








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.


Author Posting © 2010, Current Zoology. This article is posted here by permission of Current Zoology for personal use, not for redistribution. The article was published in Current Zoology,Volume 56, Issue 2, April 2010, p. 238-243.

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