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Stressful city sounds: glucocorticoid responses to experimental traffic noise are environmentally dependent
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A major challenge in urban ecology is to identify the environmental factors responsible for phenotypic differences between urban and rural individuals. However, the intercorrelation between the factors that characterize urban environments, combined with a lack of experimental manipulations of these factors in both urban and rural areas, hinder efforts to identify which aspects of urban environments are responsible for phenotypic differences. Among the factors modified by urbanization, anthropogenic sound, particularly traffic noise, is especially detrimental to animals. The mechanisms by which anthropogenic sound affects animals are unclear, but one potential mechanismis through changes in glucocorticoid hormone levels. We exposed adult house wrens, Troglodytes aedon, to either traffic noise or pink noise (a non-traffic noise control). We found that urban wrens had higher initial (pre-restraint) corticosterone than rural wrens before treatment, and that traffic noise elevated initial corticosterone of rural, but not urban, wrens. By contrast, restraint stress-induced corticosterone was not affected by noise treatment. Our results indicate that traffic noise specifically contributes to determining the glucocorticoid phenotype, and suggest that glucocorticoids are a mechanism by which anthropogenic sound causes phenotypic differences between urban and rural animals.