Alpha male status and availability of conceptive females are associated with high glucocorticoid concentrations in high-ranking male rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) during the mating season
The relationship between male mating opportunities, stress, and glucocorticoid concentrations is complicated by the fact that physiological stress and glucocorticoid concentrations can be influenced by dominance rank, group size, and the stability of the male dominance hierarchy, along with ecological factors. We studied the three highest-ranking males in nine different social groups within the same free-ranging population of rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, during the mating season, to examine variation in glucocorticoid concentrations in relation to number of females that conceived each month, alpha status, number of adult males in a group, and male rank hierarchy stability. We found that glucocorticoid concentrations were highest in the early mating season period when more females conceived in each group and declined linearly as the mating season progressed and the number of conceptive females decreased. Alpha males had significantly higher mean monthly glucocorticoid concentrations than other high-ranking males throughout the study period. Male age, number of adult males in a group, and hierarchy stability were not significantly associated with glucocorticoid concentrations. Our findings suggest that alpha males may experience significantly higher levels of physiological stress than their immediate subordinates and that this stress coincides with the period of the mating season when most conceptions occur.