Physiol Behav. 2023 Oct 20:114385. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2023.114385. Online ahead of print.
Wild animals are brought to captivity for different reasons, for example to be kept in zoos and rehabilitation centres, but also for basic research. Such animals usually undergo a process of adjustment to captive conditions. While this adjustment occurs on the behavioural and the physiological level, those are usually studied separately. The aim of this study was to assess both the physiological and behavioural responses of wild wood mice, Apodemus sylvaticus, while adjusting to laboratory conditions. Over the course of four weeks, we measured in wild-caught mice brought to the laboratory faecal corticosterone metabolites and body mass as physiological parameters, stereotypic behaviour and nest-quality, as welfare-linked behavioural parameters, and four personality measures as additional behavioural parameters. The results of our study indicate that mice exhibited an adjustment in both behaviour and physiology over time in the laboratory. While the hormonal stress response decreased significantly, body mass and the proportion of stereotypic behaviours showed a tendency to increase over time. The slight increase of stereotypic behaviours, although not statistically significant, suggests the development of repetitive and non-functional behaviours as a response to laboratory conditions. However, we suggest that those behaviours might have been used by animals as a coping strategy to decrease the physiological stress response. Other behavioural parameters measured, such as boldness and nestbuilding behaviour were stable over time. The information obtained in the present study hints at a complex interplay between behavioural and physiological adjustments of wild animals to laboratory conditions, which should be considered when intending to use wild animals in experimental research.