Animals (Jun 2022)

Validation of an Enzyme Immunoassay to Measure Faecal Glucocorticoid Metabolites in Common Brushtail Possums (<i>Trichosurus vulpecula</i>) to Evaluate Responses to Rehabilitation

  • Holly R. Cope,
  • Tamara Keeley,
  • Joy Keong,
  • Daniel Smith,
  • Fabiola R. O. Silva,
  • Clare McArthur,
  • Koa N. Webster,
  • Valentina S. A. Mella,
  • Catherine A. Herbert

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 1627
p. 1627


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Volunteer wildlife rehabilitators rescue and rehabilitate thousands of native animals every year in Australia. However, there is little known about how exposure to novel stimuli during rehabilitation could affect the physiology of wildlife. We investigated this question in a species that commonly enters rehabilitation, the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). We evaluated five enzyme immunoassays (EIA) to determine the most suitable for measuring faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM) as a proxy for evaluating the response of brushtail possums to potential stressors during rehabilitation. An adrenocorticotrophin hormone (ACTH) challenge was conducted on wild-caught possums to determine the best-performing EIA based on the successful detection of FGM peaks in at least two of three possums. While a number of assays met these criteria, the 11-oxoaetiocholanolone (abbreviation: 72a) EIA was selected as it had the largest amplitude of change in response to the ACTH challenge. This assay was then used to measure FGM concentrations in 20 possums during rehabilitation. There was high variation in baseline FGM concentrations and response to captivity between possums. Significant changes in FGM levels were detected in most possums during captivity, but were not reliably associated with potentially stressful events that were identified by rehabilitators. The probability of an FGM peak occurring within five days of a potentially stressful event was about 50%, regardless of the type of event. Our study has demonstrated that injured and orphaned possums show changes in FGMs during captivity and rehabilitation and has identified events that can induce a physiological response in some individuals. We recommend that research now focus on the relationship between these responses during rehabilitation and pre- and post-release survival.