Effects of Weather Conditions on Oxidative Stress, Oxidative Damage, and Antioxidant Capacity in a Wild-Living Mammal, the European Badger (Meles meles).
Bilham K., Newman C., Buesching CD., Noonan MJ., Boyd A., Smith AL., Macdonald DW.
Wild-living animals are subject to weather variability that may cause the generation of reactive oxygen species, resulting in oxidative stress and tissue damage, potentially driving demographic responses. Our 3-yr field study investigated the effects of seasonal weather conditions on biomarkers for oxidative stress, oxidative damage, and antioxidant defense in the European badger (Meles meles). We found age class effects: cubs were more susceptible to oxidative stress and oxidative damage than adults, especially very young cubs in the spring, when they also exhibited lower antioxidant biomarkers than adults. Although previous studies have found that intermediate spring and summer rainfall and warmer temperatures favor cub survival, counterintuitively these conditions were associated with more severe oxidative damage. Oxidative damage was high in cubs even when antioxidant biomarkers were high. In contrast, adult responses accorded with previous survival analyses. Wetter spring and summer conditions were associated with higher oxidative damage, but they were also associated with higher antioxidant biomarkers. Autumnal weather did not vary substantially from normative values, and thus effects were muted. Winter carryover effects were partially evident, with drier and milder conditions associated with greater oxidative damage in the following spring but also with higher antioxidant capacity. Plausibly, warmer conditions promoted more badger activity, with associated metabolic costs at a time of year when food supply is limited. Modeling biomarkers against projected climate change scenarios predicted greater future risks of oxidative damage, although not necessarily exceeding antioxidant capacity. This interdisciplinary approach demonstrates that individual adaptive physiological responses are associated with variation in natural environmental conditions.