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Keywords:

  • feeding competition;
  • glucocorticoids;
  • energetic stress;
  • social status;
  • foraging behavior

Abstract

Socioecological theory predicts that aggressive feeding competition is associated with linear dominance hierarchies and reproductive advantages for high-ranking females. Female blue monkeys contest fruits and have a linear dominance hierarchy, yet previous research has shown no evidence that high-ranking females benefit from greater feeding success or fertility. Here, we assess whether individuals differ in fecal glucocorticoid (fGC) excretion and examine proximate determinants of such differences to infer potential fitness correlates of rank, using data collected from two study groups in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. We found that higher ranking females had preferential access to fruits in both groups, although the behavioral mechanisms leading to this effect varied between groups. Despite a consistent rank difference in feeding on fruits, an overall rank effect on fGCs emerged in only one group; females of this group spent comparatively more time feeding on fruits, fruits accounted for a greater proportion of the diet, and females engaged in more frequent food-related agonism. In addition, more females in this group were lactating during a period of low fruit availability, when rank effects on fGCs were particularly strong. Regardless of fruit availability, among lactating females of both groups higher rank was associated with lower fGC levels, indicating lower energetic stress in higher ranking females when energy demands were particularly high. Individual rates of agonism, a potential psychological stressor, were unrelated to fGCs at all times. After we accounted for rates of agonism and feeding on fruits, females of one group who groomed others more had lower fGCs, suggesting that variable social coping behavior can contribute to fGC variation in some groups. This study provides the first empirical evidence that high-ranking female blue monkeys may obtain fitness benefits from their social status, by gaining priority of access to fruits during critical times in the reproductive cycle. Am. J. Primatol. 73:870–882, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.