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Keywords:

  • chimpanzees;
  • ovarian steroids;
  • conception;
  • sexual behavior;
  • feces;
  • urine

Abstract

Fecal and urine samples were collected from 81 female East African chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) in three major study populations in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, and Budongo Forest Reserve and Kibale National Park, Uganda. In this study I evaluated issues related to sample storage and assay reliability, and used these methods to investigate the significance of ovarian hormone levels in terms of conception success and sexual behavior. Drying of feces proved to be an effective technique and resulted in hormonal concentrations that were significantly correlated with concentrations in frozen feces. Estimates of ovarian steroid production based on urine and fecal sampling were significantly correlated with each other. The ovarian cycle profiles obtained, which were aligned relative to sexual swelling detumescence, corroborate previous findings in wild west African chimpanzees [Deschner et al., Animal Behaviour 66:551–560, 2003] in suggesting that the fertile period is limited to the last week of tumescence, but that ovulatory timing is not as precise as previously thought. A comparison across cycles confirmed the hypothesis that higher ovarian steroid levels are associated with an increased probability of conception. Females that did conceive with relatively low hormone levels had poor reproductive outcomes. Sexual behavior was tied to the probability of conception both within and across cycles. Copulatory activity within cycles closely followed the estrogen profile and was timed to coincide, on average, with the peak fertile period of females. Further, rates of copulation were significantly higher during the fertile periods of cycles that led to conception than those that did not. Am. J. Primatol. 67:137–158, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.