Social and environmental factors affecting fecal glucocorticoids in wild, female white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus)

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Abstract

Assessing glucocorticoid levels in free-ranging nonhuman primates provides a means to determine the social and environmental stress load for individuals. We investigated the effect of four proximate variables—reproductive state, season, male rank stability, and dominance rank—on the level of fecal glucocorticoids (cortisol metabolites) in eight adult female white-faced capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica. Reproductive state, season, and male rank stability significantly affected fecal glucocorticoids while female dominance rank did not. Cortisol levels were significantly higher in pregnant females as compared with lactating or other reproductive states. Cortisol levels were higher among females during the dry season compared with the wet season, suggesting a metabolic adaptation to maintain homeostasis in drier, hotter conditions. Although unfamiliar males present a greater infanticidal threat than do familiar ones, we found that females experienced higher glucocorticoid levels during male rank instability events, regardless of whether the alpha male role was taken over by a familiar or an unfamiliar male. Our findings provide important benchmark and comparative data for future studies on the variables that affect glucocorticoid levels in this species and other mammals. Am. J. Primatol. 73:861–869, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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