Effects of reproductive and social variables on fecal glucocorticoid levels in a sample of adult male ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) at the Beza Mahafaly Reserve, Madagascar

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Abstract

Glucocorticoids, a group of adrenal hormones, are secreted in response to stress. In male primates, variables such as breeding seasonality, dominance hierarchy stability, and aggressive and affiliative interactions can affect glucocorticoid levels. In this study, we examined interindividual differences in mean fecal glucocorticoid (fGC) levels among males in three groups of wild ring-tailed lemurs to better understand the physiological costs of group living for males in a female-dominant species that exhibits strict reproductive seasonality. Fecal and behavioral data samples were collected during one mating and two postmating seasons (2001 and 2003). The mean fGC levels were examined in relation to reproductive season, male rank, number of resident males, intermale and female–male agonism, and affiliative behavior with females. The mean fGC levels were not significantly elevated during mating season compared to the postmating period. During the mating season, male dominance hierarchies broke down and rank effects could not be tested; however, there was no relationship between male rank and fGC levels in the postmating periods. In 2001, males that resided in the group with the fewest males exhibited lower fGC levels during the postmating period. They also affiliated more with females than did males in the other groups. During the mating season of 2003, males engaged in more affiliative behaviors with females compared to the postmating season, but female–male agonism did not differ by season. However, rates of intermale agonism were significantly higher during mating compared to postmating periods, but such heightened agonism did not translate to a higher stress response. Thus, neither male–male competition for mates nor heightened agonism between males during the breeding season affected male fGC levels. Fewer males residing in a group, however, did have some effect on male–female affiliation and male fGC levels outside of the mating period. Males that live in a group with only a few (two or three) males may experience less physiological stress than those that live in groups with more males. Am. J. Primatol. 67:5–23, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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