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Keywords:

  • Papio;
  • pregnancy;
  • lactation;
  • steroids;
  • parity;
  • fetal sex;
  • offspring survival

Abstract

Steroid concentrations during late pregnancy and early lactation may be affected by both a female's reproductive history and her current condition, and may in turn predict subsequent life-history events, such as offspring survival. This study investigated these relationships in a wild primate population through the use of fecal steroid analysis in repeated sampling of peripartum baboons (Papio cynocephalus). Fecal samples were collected from 32 females in five groups within the Amboseli basin during 8 weeks prior to parturition and 13 weeks postpartum. From December 1999 through February 2002, 176 fecal samples were collected from individuals representing 39 peripartum periods. Fecal concentrations of progestins (fP), estrogen metabolites (fE), glucocorticoids (fGC), and testosterone metabolites (fT) were measured by radioimmunoassay. Steroid concentrations declined from late pregnancy to lactation, and the decline was greatest and most precipitous for fE and fP. Primiparous females had significantly higher mean fE concentrations in each of the last 2 months of pregnancy compared to multiparous females. Among multiparous females, fE and fT were significantly higher during late pregnancy in females carrying a male fetus compared to those carrying a female fetus. During early lactation, high fT in young mothers predicted subsequent infant death during the first year of life. These findings illustrate the potential power of repeated fecal-steroid sampling to elucidate mechanisms of life-history variability in natural populations. They also document significant differences in hormone profiles among subgroups, and highlight that such normative subgroup information is essential for interpreting individual variability in hormone–behavior associations. Am. J. Primatol. 64:95–106;, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.