Validation of an enzyme immunoassay for assessing adrenocortical activity and evaluation of factors that affect levels of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites in two New World primates

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Abstract

Non-invasive methods to assess stress hormone output via fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGCMs) have become a powerful tool in behavioral studies and conservation biology because they allow exploring the link between behavior, an animal's socio-ecological environment and its adrenocortical activity. However, FGCM levels are influenced by numerous other factors which often confound their interpretation. Thus, before applying these methods, knowledge on the impact of these factors is important. In this study we investigated the effect of (1) time of day, (2) age, (3) sex and (4) female reproductive state on FGCM levels in brown spider monkeys (Ateles hybridus) and red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus). Initially, we validated a 11β-hydroxyetiocholanolone enzyme immunoassay for monitoring the physiological stress response via fecal analysis in both species. We determined FGCM levels in fecal samples collected from two and six groups of wild spider monkeys (n=. 461 samples) and howler monkeys (n=. 166 samples), respectively. Our analyses revealed a strong effect of time of day on FGCM levels in spider monkeys, but no effect in howler monkeys. Adults of both species had significantly higher FGCM levels than subadults. In neither of the two species we found a sex-effect on FGCM output. Reproductive condition strongly affected FGCM levels in female spider monkeys which showed increasing concentrations with progressing gestation. This was not investigated in female howler monkeys due to an insufficient sample size. Our data indicate that the influence of the tested factors on fecal glucocorticoid metabolite output is species-specific, and that these variables need to be considered when interpreting FGCM levels in the species. © 2013 The authors.

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Rimbach, R., Heymann, E. W., Link, A., & Heistermann, M. (2013). Validation of an enzyme immunoassay for assessing adrenocortical activity and evaluation of factors that affect levels of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites in two New World primates. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 191, 13–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2013.05.010

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