Testosterone and reproductive effort in male primates

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Abstract

Considerable evidence suggests that the steroid hormone testosterone mediates major life-history trade-offs in vertebrates, promoting mating effort at the expense of parenting effort or survival. Observations from a range of wild primates support the “Challenge Hypothesis,” which posits that variation in male testosterone is more closely associated with aggressive mating competition than with reproductive physiology. In both seasonally and non-seasonally breeding species, males increase testosterone production primarily when competing for fecund females. In species where males compete to maintain long-term access to females, testosterone increases when males are threatened with losing access to females, rather than during mating periods. And when male status is linked to mating success, and dependent on aggression, high-ranking males normally maintain higher testosterone levels than subordinates, particularly when dominance hierarchies are unstable. Trade-offs between parenting effort and mating effort appear to be weak in most primates, because direct investment in the form of infant transport and provisioning is rare. Instead, infant protection is the primary form of paternal investment in the order. Testosterone does not inhibit this form of investment, which relies on male aggression. Testosterone has a wide range of effects in primates that plausibly function to support male competitive behavior. These include psychological effects related to dominance striving, analgesic effects, and effects on the development and maintenance of the armaments and adornments that males employ in mating competition.

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