Support vector machines for explaining physiological stress response in Wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus)
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Physiological stress response is a crucial adaptive mechanism for prey species survival. This paper aims to identify the main environmental and/or individual factors better explaining the stress response in Wood mice, Apodemus sylvaticus. We analyzed alterations in fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FCM) concentration - extensively used as an accurate measure of the physiological stress response - of wild mice fecal samples seasonally collected during three years. Then, support vector machines were built to predict said concentration according to different stressors. These statistical tools appear to be particularly suitable for small datasets with substantial number of dimensions, corroborating that the stress response is an extremely complex process in which multiple factors can simultaneously partake in a context-dependent manner, i.e., the role of each potential stressor varies in time depending on other stressors. However, air-humidity, temperature and body-weight allowed us to explain the FCM fluctuation in 98% of our samples. The relevance of air-humidity and temperature altering FCM level could be linked to the presence of an abundant vegetation cover and, therefore, to food availability and predation risk perception. Body-weight might be related to the stress produced by reproduction and other intraspecific relationships such as social dominance or territorial behavior.