We examined the relationship among seasonal characteristics of climate, food, and population demography (social structure) and fecal corticosterone (CORT) concentrations over 6 yr in adult males of an arid-adapted species, the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus Licht., Gerbillidae, Rodentia), as a measure of chronic stress in high, low, and recovering population densities. Results showed yearly differences in the seasonal means of CORT, with the highest concentrations in the year of the highest population density. Analysis of year-specific relationships revealed a positive correlation between mean CORT and total precipitation in January and February and a negative correlation with precipitation in March. In the beginning of spring, when gerbils were in maximum reproductive effort, CORT correlated positively with the saturation of burrow systems and with the number of adult females with an adult male. A linear stepwise regression of CORT in individual males in spring seasons of all 6 yr combined after removal of year effects revealed that CORT depended positively on the number of females associated with a single male but negatively on the abundance of annual herbs. Disappearance of adult males was not related to CORT in most cases. We found no correlation between overall mortality from season to season and mean CORT in either spring (March-May) or fall. In fact, we found a highly negative correlation between mean CORT and the proportion of disappeared males at the beginning of spring. Only at the high population density when cases of probable catastrophic mortality of all adults in the group were excluded was CORT of individual males related positively to their disappearance during the summer drought. Our results suggest that desert rodents with irregular population fluctuations are more sensitive to suppression by external factors than by density-dependent mortality mediated by stress. The favorable feeding and climatic conditions may have compensated for density-dependent increases of CORT and the negative effects it might have had on survival.