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Keywords:

  • Barbary macaque;
  • anogenital swelling;
  • fecal estrogens;
  • fecal progestagens;
  • postconception swelling

Abstract

In macaques and other cercopithecoid primates, large anogenital swellings (AS) are generally found only in those species in which reproduction is not seasonally restricted. In this respect, the Barbary macaque is unusual because while it shows a marked degree of reproductive seasonality, it also exhibits a striking, exaggerated swelling of the circumanal region and labia. Information on the characteristics of AS in female Barbary macaques is limited in that it is largely based on semiquantitative assessments of swelling size, and there are no data on endocrine parameters associated with AS during ovulatory cycles or early pregnancy. In the present study, we combined quantitative measurements of four swelling size parameters (AS width, height, and depth, and labial width) using a video-imaging technique with fecal estrogen and progestagen determinations in free-ranging females of the Gibraltar Barbary macaque population to 1) characterize the pattern of AS throughout the mating season and early gestation, and 2) examine the relationships among changes in swelling size and endocrine parameters. The patterns of all four swelling parameters correlated significantly with one another, although measures of AS depth and labial width were difficult to obtain. Using the product of AS height and width, the data demonstrate that the occurrence of AS is highly seasonal, with pronounced cyclical changes during the mating season and early pregnancy. Furthermore, the swelling cycles are characterized by progressive size increases from the early to the late follicular phase, in association with an elevated estrogen:progestagen (E:P) ratio, with ovulation occurring during the maximum swelling phase. The results also demonstrated a conspicuous postconception increase in swelling between days 18–30 of gestation. The postconception swellings were on average 80% of the size of that of the conception cycles, and were preceded by a large increase in fecal estrogen levels and the E:P ratio. This is the first study to characterize swelling patterns and their endocrine correlates during ovarian cycles and early pregnancy in naturally reproducing female Barbary macaques. The data provide a solid basis for further studies to explore sociosexual behavioral patterns and the functional significance of AS in this species. Am. J. Primatol. 66:351–368, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.