Many studies have shown that low dominance status within a social group is associated with elevated glucocorticoid hormone production, a common index of physiological stress. However, the reverse may be true among cooperatively breeding female mammals with high reproductive skew; that is, high dominance status is associated with elevated glucocorticoid levels. Elevated glucocorticoid levels in these dominant females may be a product of their being the only breeder within a group or may result from other challenges associated with high status. To test this difference, we studied fecal corticoid levels in cooperative breeding females with low reproductive skew (i.e., where reproduction is not limited to dominant group members): ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). We collected behavioral and fecal corticoid data from 39 ring-tailed lemur females from eight groups across three sites. In seven of the eight groups, either one or both of the two most dominant females (ranks 1 and 2) exhibited the highest fecal corticoid levels in the groups. The best predictor of corticoid levels in high-ranking females was the proportion of aggressive agonistic interactions they initiated. For the lower-ranking females the best predictors of elevated corticoid levels were being the recipient of aggressive attacks and being relatively close to one's nearest neighbors. These results differ from many studies of caged male mammals where subordinate individuals often exhibit the highest glucocorticoid levels of a group. Furthermore, the results indicate that reproduction itself is not the primary reason for higher glucocorticoid levels among dominant cooperative-breeding females, but that some other factor must account for these elevated levels.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Behavioral Neuroscience