Tim S. Jessop, Jonathan Webb, Tim Dempster, Benjamin Feit, and Mike Letnic
Animals use irruptive movement to avoid exposure to stochastic and pervasive environmental stressors that impact fitness. Beneficial irruptive movements transfer individuals from high-stress areas (conferring low fitness) to alternative localities that may improve survival or reproduction. However, being stochastic, environmental stressors can limit an animal’s preparatory capacity to enhance irruptive movement performance. Thus individuals must rely on pre-existing, or rapidly induced, physiological and behavioural responses. Rapid elevation of glucocorticoid hormones in response to environmental stressors are widely implicated in adjusting physiological and behaviour processes that could influence irruptive movement capacity. However, there remains little direct evidence demonstrating that corticosterone-regulated movement performance or interaction with pervasiveness of environmental stress, confers adaptive movement outcomes. Here, we compared how movement-related survival of cane toads (Rhinella marina) varied with three different experimental corticosterone phenotypes across four increments of increasing environmental stressor pervasiveness (i.e. distance from water in a semi-arid landscape). Our results indicated that toads with phenotypically increased corticosterone levels attained higher movement-related survival compared with individuals with control or lowered corticosterone phenotypes. However, the effects of corticosterone phenotypes on movement-related survival to some extent co-varied with stressor pervasiveness. Thus, our study demonstrates how the interplay between an individual’s corticosterone phenotype and movement capacity alongside the arising costs of movement and the pervasiveness of the environmental stressor can affect survival outcomes.