Coming of age: steroid hormones of wild immature baboons (Papio cynocephalus)

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Abstract

Large gaps exist in our knowledge about common patterns and variability in the endocrinology of immature nonhuman primates, and even normal hormonal profiles during that life stage are lacking for wild populations. In the present study we present steroid profiles for a wild population of baboons (Papio cynocephalus) from infancy through reproductive maturation, obtained by noninvasive fecal analyses. Fecal concentrations of glucocorticoid (fGC) and testosterone (fT) metabolites for males, and of fGC, estrogen (fE), and progestin (fP) metabolites for females were measured by radioimmunoassay (RIA). In males, infancy was characterized by high and declining levels of fGC and fT, whereas steroid concentrations were low during the juvenile years. During the months immediately prior to testicular enlargement, fT (but not fGC) concentration tended to increase. Males that matured early consistently had higher fT and fGC concentrations than those that matured late, but not significantly so at any age. Individual differences in fT concentrations were stable across ages, and average individual fT and fGC concentrations were positively correlated. For females, high and declining levels of fE characterized infancy, and values increased again after 3.5 years of age, as some females reached menarche by that age. Both fP and fGC were relatively low and constant throughout infancy and the juvenile period. During the months immediately prior to menarche, fGC concentration significantly decreased, while no changes were observed for fE levels. fP exhibited a complicated pattern of decrease that was subsequently followed by a more modest and nonsignificant increase as menarche approached. Early- (EM) and late-maturing (LM) females differed only in fP concentration; the higher fP concentrations in EM females reached significance at 4–4.5 years of age. Maternal rank at offspring conception did not predict concentrations of any hormone for either sex. Our results demonstrate the presence of individual endocrine variability, which could have important consequences for the timing of sexual maturation and subsequently for individual reproductive success. Further evaluation of the factors that affect hormone concentrations during the juvenile and adolescent periods should lead to a better understanding of mechanisms of life-history variability. Am. J. Primatol. 67:83–100, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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