• Raymond Vagell

TABA 2022 @ Austin TX

The 2022 Texas Association of Biological Anthropologists (TABA) conference is my first in-person conference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I presented a poster on my salivary cortisol project, which is part of my dissertation research on captive ruffed lemurs and welfare.

Are Cognitive Tests Stressful? Validating Salivary Cortisol As Measures of Stress in Captive Varecia spp.

Abstract: Cognitive research can either be enriching or stressful for subjects. To monitor whether subjects are experiencing stress while performing cognitive tests, cortisol measurements need to be in real time so here we propose using saliva samples, rather than other traditionally used noninvasive sample types like fecal samples, as cortisol shows up in saliva within 1-3 minutes of release into the bloodstream. Biological validation is required to ensure assays are accurately measuring cortisol responses to events. Though a widely used validation procedure, ACTH stimulation requires anesthesia and subjects need to be separated from their groupmates for up to 72 hours afterward. ACTH stimulation is also typically used to validate hormones within fecal samples rather than saliva. Instead, we used handling (net capture) as a stressor to mimic a stressful event for biological validation. Subjects (N=11) were trained to voluntarily chew on cotton swabs and return them so that saliva samples could be collected.

Most subjects showed an increase in cortisol level after exposure to the stressor and a return to baseline 2 hours later, validating that salivary

cortisol is a reliable measurement for stress. Additionally, we also looked into the diurnal variation of cortisol secretion in Varecia spp. We found that subjects vary in their mean cortisol secretion throughout the day but that there was no discernable species-wide pattern.

Link to an online version of the poster here.

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