Seasonal variation and social correlates of androgen excretion in male redfronted lemurs (Eulemur fulvus rufus)

  • Ostner J
  • Kappeler P
  • Heistermann M
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Abstract

The aim of this study was to examine effects of seasonal and social factors on male androgen excretion in a seasonally breeding primate living in multimale-multifemale groups. By combining detailed behavioural observations (>2,500 h) on 3 groups of redfronted lemurs living in Kirindy Forest/Madagascar with non-invasive hormone analysis of >800 faecal samples collected concomitantly from the same animals, we tested predictions on: (1) the effect of social status on immunoreactive testosterone (iT) excretion; (2) seasonal variation of iT across reproductive periods; and (3) the relationship between aggression and iT excretion. The study lasted 14 months, covering two mating and one birth season. The results revealed that males fall into two distinct social classes, with one dominant male and several subordinate males in each group. In contrast to our prediction, the behavioural differences between these two classes were not reflected by differences in androgen levels, making physiological suppression of testicular function an unlikely mechanism of male reproductive competition. As expected for a seasonally breeding animal, iT values were elevated during the mating season. Androgen levels tracked the increase in the rate of reproductive aggression during the mating season as predicted by the challenge hypothesis. An increase in aggression due to spontaneous social instability outside the mating season, however, was not linked to a parallel rise of iT. Furthermore, the highest iT levels were obtained during the birth season, which may be part of a male strategy to remain aggressive during this period of high infanticide risk. These findings suggest that redfronted lemurs do not respond with increases in androgens to short-term challenges and that high androgen levels instead correlate with longer-lasting and predictable situations, such as the mating and birth seasons.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Aggression
  • Challenge hypothesis
  • Faecal androgens
  • Lemurs
  • Seasonality

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