The role of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal/interrenal axis in mediating predator-avoidance trade-offs

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Maintaining energy balance and reproducing are important for fitness, yet animals have evolved mechanisms by which the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal/interrenal (HPA/HPI) axis can shut these activities off. While HPA/HPI axis inhibition of feeding and reproduction may have evolved as a predator defense, to date there has been no review across taxa of the causal evidence for such a relationship. Here we review the literature on this topic by addressing evidence for three predictions: that exposure to predators decreases reproduction and feeding, that exposure to predators activates the HPA/HPI axis, and that predator-induced activation of the HPA/HPI axis inhibits foraging and reproduction. Weight of evidence indicates that exposure to predator cues inhibits several aspects of foraging and reproduction. While the evidence from fish and mammals supports the hypothesis that predator cues activate the HPA/HPI axis, the existing data in other vertebrate taxa are equivocal. A causal role for the HPA axis in predator-induced suppression of feeding and reproduction has not been demonstrated to date, although many studies report correlative relationships between HPA activity and reproduction and/or feeding. Manipulation of HPA/HPI axis signaling will be required in future studies to demonstrate direct mediation of predator-induced inhibition of feeding and reproduction. Understanding the circuitry linking sensory pathways to their control of the HPA/HPI axis also is needed. Finally, the role that fear and anxiety pathways play in the response of the HPA axis to predator cues is needed to better understand the role that predators have played in shaping anxiety related behaviors in all species, including humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-142
Number of pages33
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Foraging
  • Glucocorticoid
  • Reproduction
  • Stress


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