U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service



Eric M. Gese https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8910-7397

Date of this Version



Kordosky JR, Gese EM, Thompson CM, Terletzky PA, Neuman-Lee LA, Schneiderman JD, et al. (2021) Landscape of stress: Tree mortality influences physiological stress and survival in a native mesocarnivore. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0253604. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253604


The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


Climate change and anthropogenic modifications to the landscape can have both positive and negative effects on an animal. Linking landscape change to physiological stress and fitness of an animal is a fundamental tenet to be examined in applied ecology. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that can be used to indicate an animal’s physiological stress response. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, fishers (Pekania pennanti) are a threatened mesocarnivore that have been subjected to rapid landscape changes due to anthropogenic modifications and tree mortality related to a 4-year drought. We measured cortisol concentrations in the hair of 64 fishers (41 females, 23 males) captured and radio-collared in the Sierra National Forest, California. We addressed two main questions: (1) Is the physiological stress response of fishers influenced by anthropogenic factors, habitat type, canopy cover, and tree mortality due to drought in their home range? (2) Does the physiological stress response influence survival, reproduction, or body condition? We examined these factors within a fisher home range at 3 scales (30, 60, 95% isopleths). Using model selection, we found that tree mortality was the principle driver influencing stress levels among individual fishers with female and male fishers having increasing cortisol levels in home ranges with increasing tree mortality. Most importantly, we also found a link between physiological stress and demography where female fishers with low cortisol levels had the highest annual survival rate (0.94), whereas females with medium and high cortisol had lower annual survival rates, 0.78 and 0.81, respectively. We found no significant relationships between cortisol levels and body condition, male survival, or litter size. We concluded that tree mortality related to a 4-year drought has created a “landscape of stress” for this small, isolated fisher population.