DENVER/April 6, 2022 — Measurement of the stress hormone cortisol in qiviut, the fine, wooly undercoat hair of muskoxen, is associated with health and vitality in the species. The use of qiviut cortisol as a tool to monitor stressors in muskoxen could help inform management and conservation of this iconic Arctic animal.
That is the conclusion of a recent project conducted by Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers from the University of Calgary. The team wanted to find a non-invasive method for monitoring muskoxen, a species under pressure from the effects of climate change and one of cultural significance for Indigenous peoples. The findings are published in the journal Conservation Physiology.
“This paper is the culmination of my graduate work with this important Arctic species,” said Dr. Juliette Di Francesco, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis, and one of the paper’s authors. Dr. Di Francesco led the work while a graduate student in the Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, Canada,
“Muskoxen numbers have dramatically declined during the past two decades in several areas of the Canadian Arctic, likely due to the varied effects of climate warming.” Said Dr. Di Francesco. “Finding a non-invasive marker of health can help us monitor herd health and inform management decisions.”
The team collected samples from 219 muskoxen as part of a muskox health surveillance program in partnership with Indigenous community members. The team measured cortisol levels (an important stress hormone) in the qiviut, then determined whether the levels correlated to markers of health such as body condition and the presence of parasites. There was an association between higher cortisol levels and markers of poor health.
“Working with Indigenous peoples has been another benefit of this research” said Dr. Susan Kutz, Professor in the Department of Ecosystem and Public Health at the University of Calgary and another of the paper’s authors. “Their keen insights into the health of muskoxen, derived from centuries of living with the animals, has been an invaluable resource.”
In addition to muskoxen, the team also has studied other Arctic animals and hope their findings will advance not only their research but help other scientists studying stressors in wild animal populations.
About Morris Animal Foundation
Morris Animal Foundation’s mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Founded in 1948 and headquartered in Denver, it is one of the largest nonprofit animal health research organizations in the world, funding more than $142 million in critical studies across a broad range of species. Learn more at morrisanimalfoundation.org.