Behavioral indicators of ovarian phase in white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus)

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Abstract

In many primate species, conspicuous behavioral and/or morphological changes are indicators of the fertile phase of the female cycle. However, several primate species, such as the white-faced capuchin, lack these cues. This is referred to as “concealed ovulation,” and is argued to be a reproductive strategy that confuses paternity and lowers the risk of infanticide. We studied 10 adult female white-faced capuchins in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica, from January to June 2002. We determined their ovarian cycling patterns by analyzing fecal ovarian hormones, and compared simultaneously collected behavioral data to determine which, if any, cues females use to signal their fertile phases. We found that four females cycled during the study period but ceased to cycle without becoming pregnant. We considered several explanations for the lack of conception during our study, including reproductive seasonality. We found that female C. capucinus showed only small increases in rates of affiliative/proceptive behaviors directed toward adult males during their periovulatory phases. The best indicator of cycle phase was a significant increase in male affiliative behaviors (e.g., following and grooming bouts) and sexual behaviors (e.g., copulations and courtship displays) directed toward females during the periovulatory phase compared to the nonovulatory phase. Our finding that females exhibit little proceptive behavior, but that copulations and male courtship are nonetheless concentrated in periovulatory phases suggests that even though females do not provide behavioral and morphological cues to ovulation, males are still able to detect it. Infanticide occurs with some frequency in these monkeys, and there is evidence for postconceptive mating as a female strategy to lower risk of infanticide via paternity confusion. However, despite this occurrence of nonconceptive mating and the absence of female cues to ovulation, truly concealed ovulation does not appear to be characteristic of this study population of white-faced capuchins. Am. J. Primatol. 67:51–68, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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