Predation often has consistent effects on prey behavior and morphology, but whether the physiological mechanisms underlying these effects show similarly consistent patterns across different populations remains an open question. In vertebrates, predation risk activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and there is growing evidence that activation of the maternal HPA axis can have intergenerational consequences via, for example, maternally-derived steroids in eggs. Here, we investigated how predation risk affects a suite of maternally-derived steroids in threespine stickleback eggs across nine Alaskan lakes that vary in whether predatory trout are absent, native, or have been stocked within the last 25 years. Using liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectroscopy (LC-MS/MS), we detected 20 steroids within unfertilized eggs. Factor analysis suggests that steroids covary within and across steroid classes (i.e. glucocorticoids, progestogens, sex steroids), emphasizing the modularity and interconnectedness of the endocrine response. Surprisingly, egg steroid profiles were not significantly associated with predator regime, although they were more variable when predators were absent compared to when predators were present, with either native or stocked trout. Despite being the most abundant steroid, cortisol was not consistently associated with predation regime. Thus, while predators can affect steroids in adults, including mothers, the link between maternal stress and embryonic development is more complex than a simple one-to-one relationship between the population-level predation risk experienced by mothers and the steroids mothers transfer to their eggs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas