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Social and reproductive factors affecting cortisol levels in wild female golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia).

  • Author(s): Bales, Karen L
  • French, Jeffrey A
  • Hostetler, Caroline M
  • Dietz, James M
  • et al.

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Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

The steroid hormone cortisol has been associated with different levels of "stress" as well as different reproductive conditions in many primates. In callitrichids, cortisol has more often been reflective of female reproductive status than of chronic stress. In this study, we addressed the hypothesis that wild golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) females, whose social structure is characterized by low aggression and high social support, would not show rank ("stress")-related differences in glucocorticoids but would show reproductive changes. We collected 710 fecal samples from 22 adult females in Poço das Antas Reserve, Brazil, and nearby reintroduction areas, and assayed them for cortisol. Differences in cortisol levels were found between different reproductive conditions. Females in the first trimester of pregnancy had lower cortisol levels than nonpregnant females, although we did not differentiate between basal and ovulating levels in nonpregnant females. Cortisol rose in the third trimester of pregnancy. Primiparous females had a higher rise in the third trimester than multiparous females. No differences in cortisol levels were found among dominant females, ovulatory subordinate females, or anovulatory subordinate females. These results are similar to those obtained in other studies of callitrichid females. The lack of differences in cortisol excretion between dominants and subordinates is likely due to the low levels of overt aggression and the high level of social support available to subordinate females.

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