Diverse biomarkers including stable isotope, hormonal, and ecoimmunological assays are powerful tools to assess animal condition. However, an integrative approach is necessary to provide the context essential to understanding how biomarkers reveal animal health in varied ecological conditions. A barrier to such integration is a general lack of awareness of how shared extraction methods from across fields can provide material from the same animal tissues for diverse biomarker assays. In addition, the use of shared methods for extracting differing tissue fractions can also provide biomarkers for how animal health varies across time. Specifically, no study has explicitly illustrated the depth and breadth of spacial and temporal information that can be derived from coupled biomarker assessments on two easily collected tissues: blood and feathers or hair. This study used integrated measures of glucocorticoids, stable isotopes, and parasite loads in the feathers and blood of fall-migrating Northern saw-whet owls (Aegolius acadicus) to illustrate the wealth of knowledge about animal health and ecology across both time and space. In feathers, we assayed deuterium (δD) isotope and corticosterone (CORT) profiles, while in blood we measured CORT and blood parasite levels. We found that while earlier migrating owls had elevated CORT levels relative to later migrating birds, there was also a disassociation between plasma and feather CORT, and blood parasite loads. These results demonstrate how these tissues integrate time periods from weeks to seasons and reflect energetic demands during differing life stages. Taken together, these findings illustrate the potential for integrating diverse biomarkers to assess interactions between environmental factors and animal health across varied time periods without the necessity of continually recapturing and tracking individuals. Combining biomarkers from diverse research fields into an integrated framework hold great promise for advancing our understanding of environmental effects on animal health.
Warne, Robin, Proudfoot, Glenn and Crespi, Erica. "Biomarkers of Animal Health: Integrating Nutritional Ecology, Endocrine Ecophysiology, Ecoimmunology, and Geospatial Ecology." Ecology and Evolution 5, No. 3 (Jan 2015): 557-566. doi:10.1002/ece3.1360.