Organisms are expected to invest less in reproduction in response to a stressor, but theory predicts that this effect should depend on the frequency and duration of stressors in the environment. Here we investigated how an acute stressor affected testes function in a songbird, and how chronic stressors influenced the acute stress response. We exposed male Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) either to chronic or minimal (control) disturbance during testicular recrudescence, after which we measured baseline testosterone, testosterone after an acute handling stressor, and capacity to produce testosterone after hormonal stimulation. In a 2×2 design, we then euthanized males from the two chronic treatment groups either immediately or after an acute stressor to investigate the effect of long- and short-term stressors on the testicular transcriptome. We found that chronically disturbed birds had marginally lower baseline testosterone. The acute stressor suppressed testosterone in control birds, but not in the chronic disturbance group. The ability to elevate testosterone did not differ between the chronic treatments. Surprisingly, chronic disturbance had a weak effect on the testicular transcriptome, and did not affect the transcriptomic response to the acute stressor. The acute stressor, on the other hand, upregulated cellular stress response, and affected expression of genes associated with hormonal stress-response. Overall, we show that testicular function is sensitive to acute stressors but surprisingly robust to long-term stressors, and that chronic disturbance attenuates the decrease in testosterone in response to acute stressor.
Mikus Abolins-Abols, Rachel E. Hanauer, Kimberly A. Rosvall, Mark P. Peterson, and Ellen D. Ketterson