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Endocrine Monitoring of Dominant and Subordinate Females in Free-Ranging Golden Lion Tamarins

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In captive callitrichid primates, female reproductive function tends to vary with social status. However, little is known about the interplay between these factors in wild groups. We report observations on normative ovarian function in dominant and subordinate female golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) living in wild groups. We monitored ovarian status by measuring, via enzyme immunoassay, concentrations of excreted pregnanediol glucuronide (PdG) and estrone conjugates (E1C) in fecal samples collected noninvasively from individuals in social groups in the Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil. Dominant breeding females demonstrated steroid levels similar to those previously reported for wild cotton-top tamarin females, with statistically significant rises during pregnancy. The duration of elevation of fecal steroids in breeding females was ca. 4 mo, which corresponds with estimates of gestation from captive studies. Low steroid concentrations from December to June suggest a seasonally-related period of infertility in female golden lion tamarins. Dominant and subordinate females demonstrated several differences in endocrine function. In general, younger females living in intact natal family groups showed no evidence of ovarian cyclicity. We noted endocrine profiles consistent with ovulation and subsequent pregnancy for behaviorally subordinate females living in groups with unrelated males or in which a reversal in female dominance status occurred. Results suggest that in addition to changes in female reproductive endocrinology associated with puberty, the regulation of reproduction in females in wild callitrichid groups can be sensitive to status and relatedness to breeding males.

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