Hormonal correlates of energetic condition in mantled howler monkeys

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Abstract

Hormones have a key role in energy allocation, so their study allows understanding individual metabolic strategies. Because different hormones convey different information on the responses of individuals to energetic demands, a simultaneous analysis of variation in multiple hormones may offer a more reliable picture of metabolic strategies than single hormone assessments. In this study we focused on determining which factors were related to variation in fecal glucocorticoid and thyroid hormone metabolites in wild mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata). Over 12 months, we determined fecal glucocorticoid and thyroid hormone metabolite levels of 11 adults belonging to two groups, and examined the relationship between hormone metabolites and a variety of behavioral, physiological, and ecological factors (e.g., food intake, sex/reproductive state, activity, participation in agonistic interactions). We found that glucocorticoids were elevated in gestating and lactating females compared to males and cycling females, and were also higher when individuals were more active and participated in agonistic interactions. Thyroid hormone levels were also related to sex/reproductive state and activity, but were additionally positively related to fruit intake and negatively related to young leaf intake. Our study demonstrates that the non-invasive measurement of glucocorticoid and thyroid hormones of howler monkeys allows assessing different underlying physiological processes. By combining different biomarkers, which has seldom been done with wildlife, we could also parse the influence of psychological vs. metabolic challenges for individual energetic condition, which may be instrumental for deciding which factors should be accounted for when studying different hormone-behavior interactions.

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