Hormonal correlates of natal dispersal and rank attainment in wild male baboons

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Abstract

In many mammals, maturational milestones such as dispersal and the attainment of adult dominance rank mark stages in the onset of reproductive activity and depend on a coordinated set of hormonal and socio-behavioral changes. Studies that focus on the link between hormones and maturational milestones are uncommon in wild mammals because of the challenges of obtaining adequate sample sizes of maturing animals and of tracking the movements of dispersing animals. We examined two maturational milestones in wild male baboons—adult dominance rank attainment and natal dispersal—and measured their association with variation in glucocorticoids (fGC) and fecal testosterone (fT). We found that rank attainment is associated with an increase in fGC levels but not fT levels: males that have achieved any adult rank have higher fGC than males that have not yet attained an adult rank. This indicates that once males have attained an adult rank they experience greater energetic and/or psychosocial demands than they did prior to attaining this milestone, most likely because of the resulting participation in both agonistic and sexual behaviors that accompany rank attainment. In contrast, natal dispersal does not produce sustained increases in either fGC or fT levels, suggesting that individuals are either well adapted to face the challenges associated with dispersal or that the effects of dispersal on hormone levels are ephemeral for male baboons.

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