Analysis of fecal glucocorticoid (GC) metabolites has recently become the standard method to monitor adrenocortical activity in primates noninvasively. However, given variation in the production, metabolism, and excretion of GCs across species and even between sexes, there are no standard methods that are universally applicable. In particular, it is important to validate assays intended to measure GC production, test extraction and storage procedures, and consider the time course of GC metabolite excretion relative to the production and circulation of the native hormones. This study examines these four methodological aspects of fecal GC metabolite analysis in tufted capuchins (Cebus apella). Specifically, we conducted an adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) challenge on one male and one female capuchin to test the validity of four GC enzyme immunoassays (EIAs) and document the time course characterizing GC metabolite excretion in this species. In addition, we compare a common field-friendly technique for extracting fecal GC metabolites to an established laboratory extraction methodology and test for effects of storing “field extracts” for up to 1 yr. Results suggest that a corticosterone EIA is most sensitive to changes in GC production, provides reliable measures when extracted according to the field method, and measures GC metabolites which remain highly stable after even 12 mo of storage. Further, the time course of GC metabolite excretion is shorter than that described yet for any primate taxa. These results provide guidelines for studies of GCs in tufted capuchins, and underscore the importance of validating methods for fecal hormone analysis for each species of interest.
ACTH challenge; Captive welfare; Cortisol; Sapajus; Storage effects; Stress
In contrast to most mammalian species, female sexual activity is not limited to the fertile phase of the ovarian cycle in anthropoid primates, which has long been proposed to conceal the timing of ovulation to males. It is now generally believed that females are still most attractive during the fertile phase, leading to high-ranking males successfully mate-guarding them specifically during this period. While studies conducted in species exhibiting exaggerated sexual swellings (probabilistic signal of the fertile phase) have generally supported this hypothesis, mixed support comes from others. Here, we investigated whether high-ranking males timed mate-guarding effort towards female fertile phases in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). In this species, adult females do not exhibit sexual swellings, but undergo facial skin colour variation, an alternative oestrogens-dependent graded-signal of female reproductive status. We collected behavioural, hormonal and genetic paternity data during two mating seasons for one group of the free-ranging population of Cayo Santiago. Our results show that mate-guarding by top-ranking males did not completely cover the entire female fertile phase and that this tactic accounted for only 30-40% of all fertilisations observed. Males tended to prolong mate-guarding into the luteal phase (null probability of fertilisation), which mirrors the pattern of male attraction to female facial colour reported in an earlier study. These findings suggest that males may have limited knowledge regarding the exact timing of females’ fertile phase in rhesus macaques, which presumably allows females to gain more control over reproduction relative to other anthropoid primate species.
Prolonged sexual receptivity; concealed ovulation; mate-guarding; fecal steroids; reproductive strategies; fertile phase; genetic paternity analysis; primates; rhesus macaques
In mammals, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and immune system play an important role in the maintenance of homeostasis. Dysregulation of either system resulting, for example, from psychosocial or reproductive stress increases susceptibility to disease and mortality risk, especially in aging individuals. In a study of free-ranging rhesus macaques, we examined how female age, reproductive state, social rank, and body condition influence (i) aspects of cytokine biology (plasma concentrations of interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra), IL-6 and IL-8), and (ii) HPA axis activity (plasma and fecal glucocorticoid levels). We also assessed individual differences in cytokine and hormone concentrations over time to determine their consistency and to investigate relations between these two indicators of physiological regulation and demand. Female monkeys showed marked increases in HPA axis activity during pregnancy and lactation, and increased circulating levels of IL-1ra with advancing age. Inter-individual differences in IL-1ra and IL-8 were consistent over successive years, suggesting that both are stable, trait-like characteristics. Furthermore, the concentrations of fecal glucocorticoid hormones in non-pregnant, non-lactating females were correlated with their plasma cortisol and IL-8 concentrations. Some individuals showed permanently elevated cytokine levels or HPA axis activity, or a combination of the two, suggesting chronic stress or disease. Our results enhance our understanding of within- and between-individual variation in cytokine levels and their relationship with glucocorticoid hormones in free-ranging primates. These findings can provide the basis for future research on stress and allostatic load in primates.
rhesus macaque; cytokines; cortisol; aging; reproduction; allostatic load
Female signals of fertility have evolved in diverse taxa. Among the most interesting study systems are those of multimale multifemale group-living primates, where females signal fertility to males through multiple signals, and in which there is substantial inter-specific variation in the composition and reliability of such signals. Among the macaques, some species display reliable behavioural and/or anogenital signals while others do not. One cause of this variation may be differences in male competitive regimes: some species show marked sexual dimorphism and reproductive skew, with males fighting for dominance, while others show low dimorphism and skew, with males queuing for dominance. As such, there is variation in the extent to which rank is a reliable proxy for male competitiveness, which may affect the extent to which it is in females’ interest to signal ovulation reliably. However, data on ovulatory signals are absent from species at one end of the macaque continuum, where selection has led to high sexual dimorphism and male reproductive skew. Here we present data from 31 cycles of 19 wild female crested macaques, a highly sexually dimorphic species with strong mating skew. We collected measures of ovarian hormone data from faeces, sexual swelling size from digital images, and male and female behaviour.
We show that both sexual swelling size and female proceptivity are graded-signals, but relatively reliable indicators of ovulation, with swelling size largest and female proceptive behaviours most frequent around ovulation. Sexual swelling size was also larger in conceptive cycles. Male mating behaviour was well timed to female ovulation, suggesting that males had accurate information about this.
Though probabilistic, crested macaque ovulatory signals are relatively reliable. We argue that in species where males fight over dominance, male dominance rank is surrogate for competitiveness. Under these circumstances it is in the interest of females to increase paternity concentration and assurance in dominants beyond levels seen in species where such competition is less marked. As such, we suggest that it may in part be variation in male competitive regimes that leads to the evolution of fertility signalling systems of different reliability.
Fertility signals; Sexual selection; Sexual swellings; Primate
Extended female sexuality in species living in multimale-multifemale groups appears to enhance benefits from multiple males. Mating with many males, however, requires a low female monopolizability, which is affected by the spatiotemporal distribution of receptive females. Ovarian cycle synchrony potentially promotes overlapping receptivity if fertile and receptive periods are tightly linked. In primates, however, mating is often decoupled from hormonal control, hence reducing the need for synchronizing ovarian events. Here, we test the alternative hypothesis that females behaviorally coordinate their receptivity while simultaneously investigating ovarian cycle synchrony in wild, seasonal Assamese macaques (Macaca assamensis), a promiscuous species with extremely extended female sexuality. Using fecal hormone analysis to assess ovarian activity we show that fertile phases are randomly distributed, and that dyadic spatial proximity does not affect their distribution. We present evidence for mating synchrony, i.e., the occurrence of the females' receptivity was significantly associated with the proportion of other females mating on a given day. Our results suggest social facilitation of mating synchrony, which explains (i) the high number of simultaneously receptive females, and (ii) the low male mating skew in this species. Active mating synchronization may serve to enhance the benefits of extended female sexuality, and may proximately explain its patterning and maintenance.
Primates are unusual in that many females display sexual signals, such as sex skin swellings/colorations and copulation calls, without any sex role reversal. The adaptive function of these signals remains largely unclear, although it has been suggested that they provide males with information on female reproductive status. For sex skin swellings, there is increasing evidence that they represent a graded signal indicating the probability of ovulation. Data on the functional significance of copulation calls are much scarcer. To clarify the information content of such calls, we recorded copulation calls in wild long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) and analysed the structure of these calls during the ovarian cycle. Specifically, we correlated selected call parameters with the female oestrogen to progestogen ratio (obtained from faecal samples), which are known to be elevated during the female's fertile phase. In addition, we ran a general linear mixed model for these call parameters, testing factors (cycle phase, occurrence/absence of ejaculation, male dominance status, occurrence/absence of mate guarding) which potentially influence female copulation calls in primates. Our results show that copulation calls of female long-tailed macaques signal mating outcome and rank of the mating partner, but not female reproductive status. They also show for the first time on primates that copulation calls can convey information on whether a female is mate guarded or not. We suspect that the function of these calls is manipulation of male mating and mate-guarding behaviour and that in this way the degree of sperm competition and ultimately male reproductive success is influenced.
Macaca fascicularis; Copulation calls; Sexual signal; Female reproductive status; Male dominance status; Ejaculation; Consortships; Estrogens; Progestogens; Faecal hormones
The human voice provides a rich source of information about individual attributes such as body size, developmental stability and emotional state. Moreover, there is evidence that female voice characteristics change across the menstrual cycle. A previous study reported that women speak with higher fundamental frequency (F0) in the high-fertility compared to the low-fertility phase. To gain further insights into the mechanisms underlying this variation in perceived attractiveness and the relationship between vocal quality and the timing of ovulation, we combined hormone measurements and acoustic analyses, to characterize voice changes on a day-to-day basis throughout the menstrual cycle. Voice characteristics were measured from free speech as well as sustained vowels. In addition, we asked men to rate vocal attractiveness from selected samples. The free speech samples revealed marginally significant variation in F0 with an increase prior to and a distinct drop during ovulation. Overall variation throughout the cycle, however, precluded unequivocal identification of the period with the highest conception risk. The analysis of vowel samples revealed a significant increase in degree of unvoiceness and noise-to-harmonic ratio during menstruation, possibly related to an increase in tissue water content. Neither estrogen nor progestogen levels predicted the observed changes in acoustic characteristics. The perceptual experiments revealed a preference by males for voice samples recorded during the pre-ovulatory period compared to other periods in the cycle. While overall we confirm earlier findings in that women speak with a higher and more variable fundamental frequency just prior to ovulation, the present study highlights the importance of taking the full range of variation into account before drawing conclusions about the value of these cues for the detection of ovulation.
In numerous primates living in mixed-sex groups, females display probabilistic cues of fertility to simultaneously concentrate paternity to dominant males while diluting it amongst others as a means to reduce the risk of infanticide and to increase male care for offspring. A few species, however, lack these cues and potentially conceal fertility from males; yet, to date, little is known about mating patterns and their underlying proximate mechanisms in such species. Here, we investigated mating activity and sexual consortships relative to female reproductive state in wild Assamese macaques (Macaca assamensis), a species where females lack prominent anogenital swellings and copulation calls. During two mating seasons (2837 contact hours) we recorded sexual and social behaviors, sexual consortships, and collected 1178 fecal samples (n = 15 females) which were analyzed for progestogen concentrations to assess female reproductive state and to determine the timing of ovulation and conception. Although mostly conceiving in their first ovarian cycle, females were sexually receptive throughout the entire 4-month mating season, and within-cycle mating frequencies were not increased during fertile phases. Dominant males did not monopolize fertile matings, and consortships by high-ranking males lasted for long periods, which were not exclusively linked to female fertile phases. Furthermore, females copulated promiscuously but not randomly, i.e. for almost every female, matings were concentrated to a certain male, irrespective of male rank. Collectively, we demonstrate that fertility is undisclosed to males. The extreme extended female sexuality facilitated by concealed fertility may allow females to create differentiated mating relationships within a promiscuous mating system. Our study provides important new insight into the plasticity of female sexuality in non-human primates.
Nutritional status is a critical element of many aspects of animal ecology, but has proven difficult to measure non-invasively in studies of free-ranging animals. Urinary C-peptide of insulin (UCP), a small polypeptide cleaved in an equimolar ratio from proinsulin when the body converts it to insulin, offers great promise in this regard, and recent studies of several non-human primate species have utilized it with encouraging results. Despite this, there are a number of unresolved issues related to the collection, processing, storage and transport of samples. These include: contamination of samples on collection (most commonly by dirt or faeces), short-term storage before returning to a field station, differences in processing and long-term storage methods (blotting onto filter paper, freezing, lyophilizing), and for frozen samples, transportation while keeping samples frozen. Such issues have been investigated for urine samples in particular with respect to their effects on steroid hormone metabolites, but there has been little investigation of their effects on UCP measurement. We collected samples from captive macaques, and undertook a series of experiments where we systematically manipulated samples and tested the effects on subsequent UCP measurements. We show that contamination of urine samples by faeces led to a decrease in UCP levels by >90%, but that contamination with dirt did not have substantial effects. Short-term storage (up to 12 hours) of samples on ice did not affect UCP levels significantly, but medium-term storage (up to 78 hours) did. Freezing and lyophilization for long-term storage did not affect UCP levels, but blotting onto filter paper did. A transportation simulation showed that transporting frozen samples packed in ice and insulated should be acceptable, but only if it can be completed within a period of a few days and if freeze-thaw can be avoided. We use our data to make practical recommendations for fieldworkers.
Animal coloration has provided many classical examples of both natural and sexual selection. Methods to study color signals range from human assessment to models of receiver vision, with objective measurements commonly involving spectrometry or digital photography. However, signal assessment by a receiver is not objective but linked to receiver perception. Here, we use standardized digital photographs of female rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) face and hindquarter regions, combined with estimates of the timing of the female fertile phase, to assess how color varies with respect to this timing. We compare objective color measures (camera sensor responses) with models of rhesus vision (retinal receptor stimulation and visual discriminability). Due to differences in spectral separation between camera sensors and rhesus receptors, camera measures overestimated color variation and underestimated luminance variation compared with rhesus macaques. Consequently, objective digital camera measurements can produce statistically significant relationships that are probably undetectable to rhesus macaques, and hence biologically irrelevant, while missing variation in the measure that may be relevant. Discrimination modeling provided results that were most meaningful (as they were directly related to receiver perception) and were easiest to relate to underlying physiology. Further, this gave new insight into the function of such signals, revealing perceptually salient signal luminance changes outside of the fertile phase that could potentially enhance paternity confusion. Our study demonstrates how, even for species with similar visual systems to humans, models of vision may provide more accurate and meaningful information on the form and function of visual signals than objective color measures do.
color signaling; communication; receiver perception; visual discrimination threshold modeling
Females of many Old World primates produce conspicuous vocalizations in combination with copulations. Indirect evidence exists that in Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus), the structure of these copulation calls is related to changes in reproductive hormone levels. However, the structure of these calls does not vary significantly around the timing of ovulation when estrogen and progestogen levels show marked changes. We here aimed to clarify this paradox by investigating how the steroid hormones estrogen and progesterone are related to changes in the acoustic structure of copulation calls. We collected data on semi-free-ranging Barbary macaques in Gibraltar and at La Forêt des Singes in Rocamadour, France. We determined estrogen and progestogen concentrations from fecal samples and combined them with a fine-grained structural analysis of female copulation calls (N = 775 calls of 11 females). Our analysis indicates a time lag of 3 d between changes in fecal hormone levels, adjusted for the excretion lag time, and in the acoustic structure of copulation calls. Specifically, we found that estrogen increased the duration and frequency of the calls, whereas progestogen had an antagonistic effect. Importantly, however, variation in acoustic variables did not track short-term changes such as the peak in estrogen occurring around the timing of ovulation. Taken together, our results help to explain why female Barbary macaque copulation calls are related to changes in hormone levels but fail to indicate the fertile phase.
Acoustic structure; Copulation call; Estrogen; Progesterone; Steroid hormone
Animals signal their reproductive status in a range of sensory modalities. Highly social animals, such as primates, have access not only to such signals, but also to prior experience of other group members. Whether this experience affects how animals interpret reproductive signals is unknown. Here, we explore whether familiarity with a specific female affects a male's ability to assess that female's reproductive signals. We used a preferential looking procedure to assess signal discrimination in free-ranging rhesus macaques, a species in which female facial luminance covaries with reproductive status. We collected images of female faces throughout the reproductive cycle, and using faecal hormone analysis to determine ovulation, categorized images as coming from a female's pre-fertile, ovulating, or post-fertile period. We printed colour-calibrated stimuli of these faces, reproducing stimuli perceptually the same in colour and luminance to the original appearance of females. These images were presented to males who were either unfamiliar or familiar with stimuli females. Overall, males distinguished ovulatory from pre-ovulatory faces. However, a significant proportion of males did so only among males familiar with stimuli females. These experiments demonstrate that familiarity may increase a receiver's ability to use a social partner's signals to discern their reproductive status.
familiarity; experience; cognition; reproductive signals; ovulation; discrimination
Studies of the nutritional status of wild animals are important in a wide range of research areas such as ecology, behavioural ecology and reproductive biology. However, they have so far been strongly limited by the indirect nature of the available non-invasive tools for the measurement of individual energetic status. The measurement of urinary C-peptide (UCP), which in humans and great apes shows a close link to individual nutritional status, may be a more direct, non-invasive tool for such studies in other primates as well and possibly even in non-primate mammals. Here, we test the suitability of UCPs as markers of nutritional status in non-hominid primates, investigating relationships between UCPs and body-mass-index (BMI), skinfold fatness, and plasma C-peptide levels in captive and free-ranging macaques. We also conducted a food reduction experiment, with daily monitoring of body weight and UCP levels. UCP levels showed significant positive correlations with BMI and skinfold fatness in both captive and free-ranging animals and with plasma C-peptide levels in captive ones. In the feeding experiment, UCP levels were positively correlated with changes in body mass and were significantly lower during food reduction than during re-feeding and the pre-experimental control condition. We conclude that UCPs may be used as reliable biomarkers of body condition and nutritional status in studies of free-ranging catarrhines. Our results open exciting opportunities for energetic studies on free-ranging primates and possibly also other mammals.
In mammals, when females are clumped in space, male access to receptive females is usually determined by a dominance hierarchy based on fighting ability. In polygynandrous primates, as opposed to most mammalian species, the strength of the relationship between male social status and reproductive success varies greatly. It has been proposed that the degree to which paternity is determined by male rank decreases with increasing female reproductive synchrony. The priority-of-access model (PoA) predicts male reproductive success based on female synchrony and male dominance rank. To date, most tests of the PoA using paternity data involved nonseasonally breeding species. Here, we examine whether the PoA explains the relatively low reproductive skew in relation to dominance rank reported in the rhesus macaque, a strictly seasonal species. We collected behavioral, genetic, and hormonal data on one group of the free-ranging population on Cayo Santiago (Puerto Rico) for 2 years. The PoA correctly predicted the steepness of male reproductive skew, but not its relationship to male dominance: the most successful sire, fathering one third of the infants, was high but not top ranking. In contrast, mating success was not significantly skewed, suggesting that other mechanisms than social status contributed to male reproductive success. Dominance may be less important for paternity in rhesus macaques than in other primate species because it is reached through queuing rather than contest, leading to alpha males not necessarily being the strongest or most attractive male. More work is needed to fully elucidate the mechanisms determining paternity in rhesus macaques.
Dominance; Reproductive skew; Mating skew; Priority-of-access model; Genetic paternity analysis; Primates; Rhesus macaques
Information on basic reproductive parameters and life-history traits is crucial for the understanding of primate evolution, ecology, social behavior, and reproductive strategies. Here, we report 4 yr of data on reproductive and life-history traits for wild female Assamese macaques (Macaca assamensis) at Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, northeastern Thailand. During 2 consecutive reproductive seasons, we investigated reproductive behavior and sexual swelling size in 16 females and collected 1832 fecal samples. Using enzyme immunoassays, we measured fecal estrogen and progesterone metabolites to assess ovarian activity and timing of ovulation and to ascertain conceptions and pregnancies. Timing of reproduction was strictly seasonal (births: April–July, 86% in April–June, 4 yr, n = 29; conceptions: October–February, 65% in December–January, 2 yr, n = 17). Females showed no cyclic ovarian activity outside the mating season and conceived in their first or second cycle (mean: 1.2 cycles to conception, n = 13). Gestation length was on average 164.2 d (range: 158–170, n = 10), and females had their first infant at an age of 5 yr (n = 4). Interbirth intervals were bimodally distributed, with females giving birth on average every 13.9 or 23.2 mo. Shorter interbirth intervals were linked to early parturition within the birth season. Most females displayed subcaudal sexual swellings which, however, did not reliably indicate female reproductive status or fertility. Overall, our results fall within the range of findings reported for other macaque species. These results thus add to the growing body of information available for wild macaques, facilitating comparative studies for a better understanding of interspecific differences in social and reproductive patterns.
Assamese macaques; fecal hormone analysis; gestation length; interbirth interval; seasonality; sexual swellings
Researchers studying individual variation in conspicuous skin coloration in primates have suggested that color indicates male quality. Although primate fur color can also be flamboyant, the potential condition dependence and thus signaling function of fur remains poorly studied. We studied sources of variation in sexually dichromatic facial hair coloration in red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur fulvus rufus). We collected data on 13 adult males in Kirindy Forest, Madagascar, during two study periods in 2006 and 2007, to determine whether variation in facial hair coloration correlates with male age, rank, androgen status, and reproductive success. We quantified facial hair coloration via standardized digital photographs of each male, assessed androgen status using fecal hormone measurements, and obtained data on reproductive success through genetic paternity analyses. Male facial hair coloration showed high individual variation, and baseline coloration was related to individual androgen status but not to any other parameter tested. Color did not reflect rapid androgen changes during the mating season. However, pronounced long-term changes in androgen levels between years were accompanied by changes in facial hair coloration. Our data suggest that facial hair coloration in red-fronted lemur males is under proximate control of androgens and may provide some information about male quality, but it does not correlate with dominance rank or male reproductive success.
androgen; coloration; condition-dependent trait; Eulemur fulvus rufus; facial hair
Intense reproductive competition and social instability are assumed to increase concentrations of glucocorticoids and androgens in vertebrates, as a means of coping with these challenges. In seasonally breeding redfronted lemurs (Eulemur fulvus rufus), the mating and the birth season and the associated increased male competition are predicted to pose such reproductive challenges. In this paper, we investigate seasonal variation in hormone excretion in male redfronted lemurs, and examine whether this variation is associated with social or ecological factors. Although dominance status has been shown to affect individual stress levels across many taxa, we predicted no rank-related differences in glucocorticoids for redfronted lemurs because relatively equal costs are associated with both high and low rank positions (based on patterns of rank acquisition/maintenance and threats toward subordinates). Over a 14-month period, we collected behavioral data (1843 focal hours) and 617 fecal samples from 13 redfronted lemur males in Kirindy Forest/Madagascar. We found no general rank-related pattern of testosterone or glucocorticoid excretion in this species. Both hormones were excreted at significantly higher levels during the mating and the birth season, despite social stability during both periods. The elevated mating season levels may be explained by increased within-group reproductive competition during this time and are in line with previous studies of other seasonally reproducing primates. For the birth season increase, we propose that the predictable risk of infanticide in this highly seasonal species affects male gonadal and adrenal endocrine activity. We evaluate alternative social and ecological factors influencing the production of both hormone classes and conclude based on our preliminary investigations that none of them can account for the observed pattern.
Glucocorticoids; Androgens; Eulemur fulvus rufus; Sexual competition; Seasonality; Stress
In a number of primate species, females utter loud and distinctive calls during mating. Here we aim to clarify the information content and function of Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) copulation calls by testing (i) whether or not copulation calls advertise the female fertile phase and (ii) whether and how copulation calls influence male ejaculatory behaviour. In order to do this, we combined hormone measurements with acoustic analysis and behavioural observations. In contrast to a previous study implying that the structure of copulation calls indicates the timing of the fertile phase, our results, using objective endocrine criteria for assessing ovulation, provide evidence that the structure of copulation calls of female Barbary macaques does not reveal the timing of the fertile phase. More importantly, females seem to influence the likelihood of ejaculation by calling versus remaining silent and by adjusting the timing of call onset. Females make use of this ability to influence mating outcome to ensure ejaculatory matings with almost all males in the group. In addition, calls given during ejaculatory copulations differ from those during non-ejaculatory copulations, providing information about mating outcome for listeners. We conclude that in this species, copulation calls apparently serve to enhance sperm competition and maximize paternity confusion.
acoustic analysis; Barbary macaque; copulation calls; hormones; ovulation; sexual selection
It is well established that grooming underpins sociality in group-living primates, and a number of studies have documented the stress-reducing effects of being groomed. In this study, we quantified grooming behaviour and physiological stress (assessed by faecal glucocorticoid analysis) in free-ranging Barbary macaques, Macaca sylvanus. Our results indicate that it is the giving rather than the receiving of grooming that is associated with lower stress levels. These findings shed important new light on the benefits of this key behaviour in primate social life.
sociability; fitness; cortisol