The stimulatory effect of males on the initiation but not the maintenance of ovarian cycling in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus)



Prior studies have shown that female cotton-top tamarins usually do not ovulate while living with natal groups, and most females do not ovulate until they are paired with an unfamiliar adult male. To examine the role of unfamiliar adult males on stimulating ovarian function, four cotton-top females were studied during three conditions: females living with their natal group for six weeks, living alone but exposed to a single unfamiliar adult male located 15 cm away from the female's cage for four weeks, and living with an unfamiliar adult male for six weeks. Behavior and urinary hormonal concentrations were measured during the three conditions. Exposure to the male consisted of visual, auditory, and airborne olfactory contact. First ovulation occurred during exposure to the unfamiliar male in three of the four females indicating that direct physical or sexual contact with the male is not required for onset of ovarian cycling. The fourth female did not ovulate even during six weeks of direct contact with the unfamiliar adult male. In addition, four parous females in either family groups (3) or singly caged (1) were examined for ovarian function 4–6 months after the death or removal of their mates. All femals continued to cycle in the absence of the male indicating that the male was not needed to continue ovarian cycling. In fact, two of the females were pregnant at the time their males died and both delivered normal infants and resumed cycling. The results of this study indicate that an unfamiliar adult male may facilitate the onset of ovarian cycling without being in direct contact with the female and visual, auditory, or airborne olfactory cues may be involved. Once repeated ovarian cycling occurs the male is not required to maintain ovarian function.