Hormonal correlates of development and natal dispersal in wild female owl monkeys (Aotus azarae) of Argentina

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Pair-living and socially monogamous primates typically do not reproduce before dispersing. It is currently unclear whether this reproductive suppression is due to endocrine or behavioral mechanisms. Cooperatively breeding taxa, like callitrichids, may forego reproduction in natal groups because they reap inclusive fitness benefits and/or they are avoiding inbreeding. However, neither of these benefits of delayed reproduction appear to adequately explain the lack of reproduction prior to leaving the natal group in pair-living monogamous species. In this study, we determined whether wild Azara's owl monkeys (Aotus azarae) in the Argentinean Chaco establish reproductive maturity prior to dispersing. We utilized 635 fecal extracts to characterize reproductive hormone profiles of 11 wild juvenile and subadult females using enzyme immunoassays. Subadult females showed hormone profiles indicative of ovulatory cycling and had mean PdG and E1G concentrations approximately five times higher than juveniles. Contrary to expectations from the inbreeding avoidance hypothesis, female owl monkeys do not delay puberty, but rather commence ovarian cycling while residing in their natal group. Still, subadults appear to have a period during which they experience irregular, non-conceptive cycles prior to reproducing. Commencing these irregular cycles in the natal group may allow them to develop a state of suspended readiness, which could be essential to securing a mate, while avoiding costs of ranging solitarily. Our results indicate that reproductive suppression in female owl monkeys is not due to endocrine suppression. We suggest that adults likely use behavioral mechanisms to prevent subadults from reproducing with unrelated adult males in their natal group.

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