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Wild animals are exposed to both short- (acute) and long-term (chronic) stressors. The glucocorticoid hormones, such as corticosterone (CORT), facilitate coping with such stressors, but these hormones can have quite distinct effects contingent on the duration of their elevation. Previously, we found that experimental elevation of CORT for 2 days (via implantation) affected zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) responses to West Nile virus (WNV). CORT-elevated birds had higher viremia for at least 2 days longer than controls, and West Nile virus (WNV)-associated mortality occurred only in CORT-elevated birds. Here, we queried how acute elevations of CORT, via injection an hour prior to WNV exposure, would affect host responses, as short-term CORT elevations can be protective in other species. Although CORT injections and implantations elevated circulating CORT to a similar degree, the type of CORT exposure had quite distinct effects on WNV responses. CORT-implanted individuals reached higher viremia and suffered more mortality to WNV than control and CORT-injected individuals. However, CORT-implanted birds maintained body mass better during infection than the other two groups. Our results further support the possibility that chronic physiological stress affects aspects of host competence and potentially community-level WNV disease dynamics.

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Conservation Physiology, v. 7, issue 1, art. coz094