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Maternal stress effects in a wild mammal

Connie Baker-Horne, MSc

This research project involves working with a wild herd of fallow deer Dama dama in Phoenix Park, Dublin. I will be focusing on the behaviour of the females within the herd, understanding their sociality and maternal behaviour.

One of my main focuses will be to investigate relationships between stress in pregnant mothers and the development and survival of their fawns. This will involve the collection of hair samples from both mother and fawns to provide a reading of their stress hormones- focusing on glucocorticoids. Whilst also completing behavioural observations in the field to analyse the relationships of mothers and fawns and to observe for maternal investment. There are many stressors within a wild animal’s environment including extreme weather, other animals and the public and this research provides an opportunity to investigate the impacts of these stressors.

My QUB Pure profile
Stress in the wild - hair cortisol

A big component of studying maternal stress has been studying and understanding how we can monitor stress in the wild. Stress whilst a normal and healthy component of survival can become debilitating in a chronic form.

Studying a combination of hormones and behaviour enables us to understand stress on an internal and external level. A large component of my research has involved extracting stress hormones (specifically cortisol) from hair samples, collecting hair from wild animals in a non-invasive manner. Hair provides us with a stable, long-term reading of steroid hormones and so is an excellent mechanism to capture a snapshot in time of an animal’s hormonal world.