[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Due to its complexity, in combination with a lack of scientific reports, fur-chewing became one of the most challenging behavioral problems common to captive chinchillas. In the last years, the hypothesis that fur-chewing is an abnormal repetitive behavior and that stress plays a role in its development and performance has arisen. Here, we investigated whether a relationship existed between the expression and intensity of fur-chewing behavior, elevated urinary cortisol excretion and anxiety-related behaviors. Specifically, we evaluated the following parameters in behaviorally normal and fur-chewing animals of both sexes: (1) mean concentrations of urinary cortisol metabolites and (2) anxiety-like behavior in an elevated plus-maze test. Urinary cortisol metabolites were higher only in females that expressed the most severe form of the fur-chewing behavior (P≤0.05). Likewise, only fur-chewing females exhibited increased (P≤0.05) anxiety-like behaviors associated with the elevated plus-maze test. Overall, these data provided additional evidence to support the concept that fur-chewing is a manifestation of physiological stress in chinchilla, and that a female sex bias exists in the development of this abnormal behavior.
Hormones and Behavior 04/2012; 61(5):758-62. · 3.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Animals facing seasonal variation in food availability experience selective pressures that favor behavioral adjustments such as migration, changes in activity, or shifts in diet. Eclectic omnivores such as many primates can process low-quality fallback food when preferred food is unavailable. Such dietary flexibility, however, may be insufficient to eliminate constraints on reproduction even for species that live in relatively permissive environments, such as moist tropical forests. Focusing on a forest-dwelling primate with a flexible diet (Cercopithecus mitis) we investigated whether females experience seasonal energetic stress and how it may relate to reproductive seasonality. We used fecal glucocorticoids (fGCs) as an indicator of energetic stress, controlling for the potentially confounding effects of social interactions and reproductive state. We modeled within-female fGC variation with General Linear Mixed Models, evaluating changes in feeding behavior and food availability as main effects. Regardless of reproductive state, fGCs increased when females shifted their diet towards fallback foods (mature leaves and other non-preferred items) and when they spent more time feeding, while fGCs decreased with feeding time on preferred items (insects, fruits, young leaves) and with the availability of young leaves. Changes in fruit availability had no general effects on fGCs, likely because fruits were sought out regardless of availability. As predicted, females in the energetically demanding stages of late pregnancy and early lactation showed greater increases in fGCs between periods of low versus high availability of fruits and young leaves than females in other reproductive states. Potential social stressors had no measurable effects on fGCs. Preliminary evidence suggests that seasonal energetic stress may affect the timing of infant independence from mothers and contribute to unusually long inter-birth intervals compared to closely related species of similar body size. Our findings highlight how the study of stress responses can provide insights into the proximate control of reproductive strategies.
PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(11):e50108. · 3.73 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Glucocorticoid hormones (GCs) have been studied intensively to understand the associations between physiological stress and reproductive skew in animal societies. However, we have little appreciation of the range of either natural levels within and among individuals, or the associations among dominance status, reproductive rate and GCs levels during breeding. To address these shortcomings, we examined variation in fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGC) during breeding periods in free-ranging female meerkats (Suricata suricatta) over 11 years. The vast majority of variation in fGC levels was found within breeding events by the same female (~87%), with the remaining variation arising among breeding events and among females. Concentrations of fGC generally tripled as pregnancy progressed. However, females with a high reproductive rate, defined as those conceiving within a month following parturition (mean = 9 days postpartum), showed significant reductions in fGC in the final 2 weeks before parturition. Despite these reductions, females with a high reproductive rate had higher fGC levels at conception of the following litter than those breeding at a low rate. After controlling for the higher reproductive rate of dominants, we found no association between levels of fGC and either age or dominance status. Our results suggest that one should be cautious about interpreting associations between dominance status, reproductive skew and GCs levels, without knowledge of the natural variation in GCs levels within and among females.
Hormones and Behavior 12/2011; 61(4):463-71. · 3.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Seasonal reproductive-endocrine norms have not been described for the genus Tragelaphus, which consists of seven species of African antelope. Longitudinal patterns of progesterone metabolite excretion were assessed by radioimmunoassays in fecal samples collected noninvasively (three to seven samples per week) from greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros, n = 4) and lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis, n = 4). Progesterone metabolite excretion patterns revealed seasonal estrous cycles in both species, and discrimination of pregnant versus nonpregnant females was achieved in lesser kudu. These data reveal the value of fecal progesterone metabolites for establishing reproductive-endocrine norms in both zoo-maintained and free-living antelopes of the genus Tragelaphus.
Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 12/2011; 42(4):558-64. · 0.43 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent, successful application of assisted reproductive technologies in captive beluga has resulted from the extensive study of male beluga reproductive biology. Optimization of assisted reproduction requires additional detailed knowledge of the female estrous cycle. Our specific objectives were to: (1) validate urinary immunoassays for use in this species; (2) elucidate annual ovarian cycle dynamics through the combined use of hormone excretion patterns and transabdominal ultrasound; and (3) establish whether ovulation in this species is spontaneous or induced by male factors. Ovulation was observed in four of 15 estrous cycles monitored in four adult female beluga maintained in a single-sex group. After introduction of a breeding male, ovulation was observed in six of seven estrous cycles. All estrous cycles occurred from March through June. For spontaneous ovulations (n=4), the inter-estrous interval was 34d (range 33-35d), with a follicular phase length (FPL) of 25±8d (mean±SD). For all ovulatory estrous cycles (with and without a breeding male), urinary estrogen conjugates (EC, 15.3±7.9ng/mg Cr) and ovulatory luteinizing hormone (ovLH, 17.1±6.6ng/mg Cr) concentrations both peaked on Day 0, and EC concentrations returned to baseline 8±7d later. For non-conceptive cycles, urinary progestagen (Pg) concentrations increased on Day 0 (3.5±1.7ng/mg Cr), peaked on Day+19 (19.7±17.1ng/mg Cr), and were elevated above baseline for 27±4d. Preovulatory follicular diameter and circumference on Day -2±2 (range: Day -4 to -1) from peak EC were 2.5±0.7 and 7.8±1.3cm, respectively. The FPL in non-ovulatory estrous cycles (n=11) lasted 24±10d and EC concentrations gradually declined to baseline over a 21±10d interval following the EC peak (27.8±28.8ng/mg Cr). Non-ovulatory estrous cycles were characterized by the absence of an ovLH surge and no concomitant increase in Pg concentrations above baseline excretion; the mean follicular diameter at or near peak EC was 3.1±0.8cm on Day 2 ±3d from peak EC (range: -1 to +5days from peak EC). Overall, these data confirm that captive beluga exhibit reproductive seasonality and demonstrate that the species is a facultative-induced ovulator.
General and Comparative Endocrinology 11/2011; 175(3):389-97. · 2.82 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The ex situ population of the Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) is not self-sustaining (20% foaling rate), and the demography is skewed toward aging individuals with low gene diversity. We designed the present study to gain a better understanding of the reproductive biology of the Przewalski's mare and to determine whether age and gene diversity influenced reproductive function. Urine samples were collected 3-7 days/wk from 19 mares from May to September, and ultrasound examinations of follicular structures were performed 3 days/wk for 5 wk from May through July in nine individuals. A high proportion of mares exhibited abnormal (endocrine, 5 [26.3%] of 19; follicular, 2 [22.2%] of 9) or acyclic (endocrine, 4 [21.1%] of 19; follicular, 3 [33.3%] of 9) reproductive patterns. In four cyclic mares, estrous cycle length was 25.1 ± 1.2 days, with 12.2 ± 0.9 days of diestrus. Follicles in cyclic mares grew 1.2 ± 0.6 mm per day and ovulated after reaching 40.4 ± 8.9 mm. Mares with a high coefficient of inbreeding excreted reduced levels of mean urinary estrogens (r(2) = 0.476, P < 0.05), but age had no significant impact on reproductive patterns in this population. Overall, these data suggest that long-term genetic management of this population is necessary to maintain reproductive fitness.
Biology of Reproduction 09/2011; 86(2):28. · 4.03 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To better understand the adaptive significance of adrenal glucocorticoid (GC) variation in the giant panda, we assessed patterns of fecal GC excretion over time as well as during estrus, parturient and non-parturient luteal phases, lactation and acyclicity in 17 adult females. Fecal estrogen and GC patterns were positively correlated (P<0.05) in four of five periestrual females (r = 0.57-0.92). Among all reproductive states, fecal GC was highest (P<0.05) during periestrus (non-parturient, 495.9 ± 100.7 ng/g [mean ± SE]; parturient, 654.1 ± 10 6.5 ng/g; P>0.05). Concentrations of GC metabolites were lower (P<0.05) during the later stage of the luteal phase in non-parturient (334.8 ± 24.8 ng/g) compared to parturient (470.4 ± 54.0 ng/g) females. Although fecal GC concentrations in cyclic, non-parturient females did not differ (P>0.05) across all seasons, there were seasonal variations (P<0.05) in females that were acyclic and non-lactational. However, the overall lack of difference (P>0.05) in GC values between reproductively cyclic and acyclic females did not support the hypothesis that ovarian acyclicity is due to increased adrenal activity (related or unrelated to physiological stress). Furthermore, GCs may play an important role in the normal endocrine milieu associated with sexual receptivity and late pregnancy. These data demonstrate that both reproductive status and seasonal factors are important modulators of adrenal function in this endangered species.
General and Comparative Endocrinology 09/2011; 173(2):364-70. · 2.82 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Socioecological theory predicts that aggressive feeding competition is associated with linear dominance hierarchies and reproductive advantages for high-ranking females. Female blue monkeys contest fruits and have a linear dominance hierarchy, yet previous research has shown no evidence that high-ranking females benefit from greater feeding success or fertility. Here, we assess whether individuals differ in fecal glucocorticoid (fGC) excretion and examine proximate determinants of such differences to infer potential fitness correlates of rank, using data collected from two study groups in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. We found that higher ranking females had preferential access to fruits in both groups, although the behavioral mechanisms leading to this effect varied between groups. Despite a consistent rank difference in feeding on fruits, an overall rank effect on fGCs emerged in only one group; females of this group spent comparatively more time feeding on fruits, fruits accounted for a greater proportion of the diet, and females engaged in more frequent food-related agonism. In addition, more females in this group were lactating during a period of low fruit availability, when rank effects on fGCs were particularly strong. Regardless of fruit availability, among lactating females of both groups higher rank was associated with lower fGC levels, indicating lower energetic stress in higher ranking females when energy demands were particularly high. Individual rates of agonism, a potential psychological stressor, were unrelated to fGCs at all times. After we accounted for rates of agonism and feeding on fruits, females of one group who groomed others more had lower fGCs, suggesting that variable social coping behavior can contribute to fGC variation in some groups. This study provides the first empirical evidence that high-ranking female blue monkeys may obtain fitness benefits from their social status, by gaining priority of access to fruits during critical times in the reproductive cycle.
American Journal of Primatology 04/2011; 73(9):870-82. · 2.46 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Eld's deer stags (Cervus eldi thamin) (in groups of three) were continuously administered gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in control, low, medium, or high doses (0, 20.1 ± 0.7, 83.3 ± 2.6, and 292.9 ± 4.9 ng∙kg−1∙d−1, respectively) via osmotic minipumps for ~80 d to investigate the potential for precociously reactivating the pituitary–testicular axis during the nonbreeding season. Secretory patterns of LH, FSH, and testosterone concentrations were qualitatively similar among treatments. However, in the low-dose group, basal LH and FSH concentrations were both increased (p < 0.05) and pituitary responsiveness to a superimposed GnRH challenge was augmented (p < 0.05) after 12 weeks of treatment compared with all other groups. Despite these endocrine changes, continuous low-dose GnRH administration was not effective for precociously inducing testicular activity in this seasonally breeding species. High-dose GnRH administration initially induced a transient increase in LH, FSH, and testosterone secretion and delayed, but did not prevent, the seasonal decline in spermatogenesis. After 6–12 weeks of high-dose GnRH administration, however, attenuated pituitary responsiveness appeared to delay the normal seasonal reactivation of the pituitary–gonadal axis. In conclusion, prolonged, continuous low-dose GnRH administration did not effectively translate into a precocious onset of testicular activity; therefore, this specific approach is unlikely to be useful for prolonging the fertile period in this seasonally breeding species.
Canadian Journal of Zoology 02/2011; 73(9):1609-1619. · 1.50 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We investigated the phylogeography and sub-species classification of the ostrich (Struthio camelus) by assessing patterns of variation in mitochondrial DNA con-trol region (mtDNA-CR) sequence and across fourteen nuclear microsatellite loci. The current consensus taxonomy of S. camelus names five subspecies based on morphology, geographic range, mtDNA restriction fragment length polymorphism and mtDNA-CR sequence analysis: S. c. camelus, S. c. syriacus, S. c. molybdephanes, S. c. massaicus and S. c. australis. We expanded a previous mtDNA dataset from 18 individual mtDNA-CR sequences to 123 sequences, including sequences from all five subspecies. Importantly, these additional sequences included 43 novel sequences of the red-necked ostrich, S. c. camelus, obtained from birds from Niger. Phylogeographic reconstruction of these sequences matches previous results, with three well-sup-ported clades containing S. c. camelus/syriacus, S. c. molybdophanes, and S. c. massaicus/australis, respectively. The 14 microsatellite loci assessed for 119 individuals of four subspecies (all but S. c. syriacus) showed considerable variation, with an average of 13.4 (±2.0) alleles per locus and a mean observed heterozygosity of 55.7 (±5.3)%. These data revealed high levels of variation within most subspe-cies, and a structure analysis revealed strong separation between each of the four subspecies. The level of divergence across both marker types suggests the consideration of separate species status for S. c. molybdophanes, and perhaps also for S. c. camelus/syriacus. Both the mtDNA-CR and microsatellite analyzes also suggest that there has been no recent hybridization between the subspecies. These findings are of importance for management of the highly endangered red-necked subspecies (S. c. camelus) and may warrant its placement onto the IUCN red list of threatened animals.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Because of their mediating role in the stress response and potential effects on fitness, glucocorticoid (GC) hormones are increasingly used to assess the physiological costs of environmental and behavioral variation among wild vertebrates. Identifying the proximate causes of GC variation, however, is complicated by simultaneous exposure to multiple potentially stressful stimuli. Here, we use data from a partially provisioned social group of Sykes' monkeys to evaluate the effects of potential psychological and metabolic stressors on temporal and individual variation in fecal GC (fGC) excretion among 11 adult females. Despite high rates of agonism over provisioned foods fGCs declined during periods of high provisioning frequency when fruit availability was dominated by neem (Azadirachta indica), an item requiring great feeding effort. Provisioned foods did not prevent fGC increases when availability of the most preferred main fruit item, tamarind (Tamarindus indica), declined drastically. Although rank-related differences in access to provisioned foods and rates of agonism did not lead to an overall effect of rank on fGCs, low-ranking females excreted more fGCs than high-ranking females during a period of high provisioning intensity and low fruit availability. The emergence of this rank effect was associated with elevated feeding effort in all females, a greater access to provisioned items by high-ranking females, and a higher proportion of time spent moving in low-ranking females. Our findings suggest that metabolic stressors were the primary determinants of both temporal and individual variation in fGCs, indicating potential fitness benefits for high-ranking females when food availability is limited.
Hormones and Behavior 09/2010; 58(4):685-97. · 3.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The luteal phase of the giant panda has been exclusively assessed by studying urinary hormone patterns in a very few individuals. To better understand hormonal dynamics of protracted progestagen excretion in this endangered species, we monitored hormonal metabolites in the fibrous faeces of multiple females in the USA and China. Giant pandas that were anoestrual during the breeding season excreted baseline progestagen throughout the year. In contrast, there were two distinctive periods when progestagen excretion increased in females that experienced behavioural oestrus, the first being modest, lasting for 61-122 days, and likely reflecting presumptive ovulation. This increase was far surpassed by a secondary rise in progestagen excretion associated with a rejuvenated luteal capacity or hormone production from an extra-gonadal source. The duration of this 'secondary' rise in progestagen excretion averaged approximately 45 days and terminated in a decline to baseline coincident with parturition or the end of a non-parturient luteal interval. Data revealed that, even with a complex, biphasic progestagen profile, the longitudinal patterns produced by giant pandas were relatively consistent among animals and across years within individuals. However, progestagen excretion patterns throughout this period could not be used to discriminate among non-pregnant, pregnant or pseudopregnant states.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Despite the importance of the western white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus mearnsi) to the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, surprisingly little is known about the reproductive physiology of this keystone species. A longitudinal, non-invasive endocrine study was conducted on female wildebeest captured from the Serengeti-Mara migration and maintained for approximately 16 months in large fenced enclosures within the species' natural range. An intact bull was introduced to a female subgroup (n=5), while remaining females (n=10) were unexposed to a male. Fecal progestagen patterns reflected ovarian activity and pregnancy. In non-pregnant animals, luteal and inter-luteal baseline progestagen values differed (p<0.001) over time, thereby allowing identification of recurrent estrous cycles. The average durations of the luteal phase, estrous cycle, gestation, and post-partum anestrus were 14.3+/-0.5, 22.6+/-1.0, 240.8+/-11.7, and 104.1+/-15.6 d, respectively. Annual reproductive patterns indicated a distinctive period of ovarian activity that extended from 13 May through 3 December (203.5+/-29.9 d) with all unmated females displaying from one to 14 estrous cycles. Progestagens were higher (p <0.001) in pregnant (n=4) than non-pregnant (n=10) cows. These data (1) reveal the value of fecal hormone monitoring for establishing the first ever endocrine profiles of female wildebeest in semi-free-living conditions in their native range, and (2) indicate that the species is a seasonal breeder that is polyestrous and a spontaneous ovulator.
General and Comparative Endocrinology 04/2010; 166(2):365-71. · 2.82 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The aim of the present study was to determine the efficacy of faecal hormonal measures for evaluating ovarian activity in a significant sized cohort of giant pandas during the perioestrual period. Faecal excretion of oestrogen and progestagen metabolites corresponded with urinary patterns and receptive behaviours. Longitudinal assessment of 10 females revealed that, on average, faecal oestrogen concentrations started to rise (P < 0.05) above baseline (baseline mean +/- s.e.m.; 64.7 +/- 6.6 ng g(-1)) 5 days before the preovulatory oestrogen peak (484.6 +/- 126.8 ng g(-1)), which was followed by a gradual descent over 4 days to nadir. Mean faecal progestagen metabolite concentrations increased approximately twofold above baseline (from 186.2 +/- 37.7 to 347.2 +/- 75.7 ng g(-1); P < 0.05) during the 20-day interval after the preovulatory oestrogen surge. Variability within and among females precluded the use of a threshold of oestrogen or progestagen metabolites to predict reproductive status, yet faeces collected 2-3 days per week provided sufficient data to recognise that an individual was in the perioestrual period. Finally, in females that were examined for at least 3 consecutive years, there was an 18-53 day variation in the onset and an 8-13 day variation in the duration of perioestrual behaviour from year to year. In summary, these findings indicate that gonadal hormone profiles associated with the period immediately before, during and after oestrus are accurately revealed by analysis of the fibrous faeces of the giant panda. This approach has potential value for providing point-in-time information on the reproductive status of free-living individuals.
Reproduction Fertility and Development 01/2010; 22(6):901-12. · 2.58 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: White-tailed deer oocyte biology is not well documented. The objective of this study was to determine (1) the influence of estradiol (E(2)) supplementation on meiotic resumption and the ability to "rescue" poorer quality (lower grade) oocytes and (2) the kinetics of oocyte nuclear maturation in vitro in the white-tailed deer. In Experiment 1, immature oocytes harvested during hunting-culling operations were cultured for 24h in the presence or absence of E(2). Incubation in 1mug/mL E(2) promoted nuclear maturation (to telophase I, TI; or to metaphase II, MII) in a higher proportion of Grade 1 oocytes ( approximately 77%; P<0.05) compared with that in Grade 2 or Grade 3 counterparts ( approximately 51%). For Grades 2 and 3 oocytes, there was no advantage (P>0.05) for E(2) supplementation in reaching TI/MII. In Experiment 2, Grade 1 oocytes were cultured in the presence of E(2) and nuclear status evaluated at 0, 3, 6, 12, and 24h of in vitro incubation. At 0h,>70% of oocytes already had undergone germinal vesicle breakdown. After 12h, approximately 70% of oocytes had reached metaphase I of nuclear maturation, with approximately 75% achieving TI/MII by 24h in vitro. In summary, adding E(2) to an in vitro maturation (IVM) culture system for white-tailed deer was advantageous, but only for the highest quality oocytes, with approximately 75% achieving nuclear maturation. In contrast, E(2) supplement did not benefit lower-grade oocytes, half of which will reach MII, with the other half failing. Under the described culture conditions, good-quality white-tailed deer oocytes achieve nuclear maturation over a time duration comparable with that reported in other ungulates.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Costs associated with extra-territorial movement are believed to have favoured the evolution of delayed dispersal and sociality across a range of social vertebrates, but remain surprisingly poorly understood. Here we reveal a novel mechanism that may contribute substantially to the costs of extra-territorial movement: physiological stress. We show that subordinate male meerkats, Suricata suricatta, exhibit markedly elevated faecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels (a non-invasive measure of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity) while conducting extra-territorial prospecting forays. While brief increases in glucocorticoid levels are unlikely to be costly, chronic elevations, arising from prolonged and/or frequent forays, are expected to compromise fitness through their diverse negative effects on health. Our findings strongly suggest that prolonged extra-territorial movements do result in chronic stress, as the high glucocorticoid levels of prospectors do not diminish on longer forays and are no lower among males with greater prospecting experience. A generalized 'stress' of extra-territorial movement may therefore have strengthened selection for delayed dispersal and sociality in this and other species, and favoured the conduct of brief forays over extended periods of floating. Our findings have implications too for understanding the rank-related distribution of physiological stress in animal societies, as extra-territorial movements are often conducted solely by subordinates.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The influence of diet and food distribution on the socioecology of group-living species has long been debated, particularly for primates. It has typically been assumed that folivorous primates experience relatively little feeding competition due to the abundant, widespread nature of their food, freeing them to form large groups in response to predation, to disperse with relative ease, and to have egalitarian female social relationships. Recent studies, however, have come to different conclusions about the extent to which folivorous primates are limited by food and experience food competition and how these factors affect folivore socioecology. To better understand the selective pressures that diet places on folivores, we investigated how 2 small highly folivorous groups of colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza) in Kibale National Park, Uganda, responded behaviorally and physiologically to a steep reduction in availability of their most important foods. The monkeys decreased their reliance on their 2 most frequently eaten food species and increased their daily path length, number of feeding patches visited/day, size of individual feeding areas, percentage of time spent feeding, and dietary diversity. They also showed evidence of physiological costs, in that lactating females' urinary C-peptide levels (i.e., insulin production) declined as top foods became scarce, and parasite loads slightly, but significantly, increased in 2 of 3 adult females examined. These results suggest that highly folivorous primates, even in very small groups, may experience behavioral and physiological effects of food limitation, within-group scramble competition for food, and possibly substantial selective pressures during periods of food scarcity. Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In many animal societies, subordinates exhibit down-regulated reproductive endocrine axes relative to those of dominants, but whether this 'physiological suppression' arises from active interference by dominants or subordinate self-restraint is a matter of debate. Here we investigate the roles that these processes play in precipitating physiological suppression among subordinate female meerkats, Suricata suricatta. We show that, while subordinate females are known to suffer stress-related physiological suppression during periodic temporary evictions by the dominant female, their low estrogen levels while within their groups cannot be readily attributed to chronic stress, as their fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels during this time are comparable to those of dominants. The low estrogen levels of subordinate females also cannot be explained simply by self-restraint due to factors that could reduce their payoff from maintaining their fertility regardless of the presence of the dominant female (young age, a lack of unrelated mates, poor body condition and limited breeding experience), as substantial rank-related differences in fecal total-estrogen metabolite levels remain when such factors are controlled. We suggest that this residual difference in estrogen levels may reflect a degree of subordinate restraint due in part to the dominant female's ability to kill their young. Accordingly, subordinate female estrogen levels vary in association with temporal variation in the likelihood of infanticide by the dominant. Attempts to identify the causes of physiological suppression should be cautious if rejecting any role for dominant interference in favor of subordinate restraint, as the dominant's capacity to interfere may often be the reason why subordinates exercise restraint.
Hormones and Behavior 02/2008; 53(1):131-9. · 3.74 Impact Factor