We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

Factors affecting fecal glucocorticoid levels in semi-free-ranging female mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx).

Setchell, J.M. and Smith, T. and Wickings, E.J. and Knapp, L.A. (2008) 'Factors affecting fecal glucocorticoid levels in semi-free-ranging female mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx).', American journal of primatology., 70 (11). pp. 1023-1032.


Subordinate female cercopithecine primates often experience decreased reproductive success in comparison with high-ranking females, with a later age at sexual maturity and first reproduction and/or longer interbirth intervals. One explanation that has traditionally been advanced to explain this is high levels of chronic social stress in subordinates, resulting from agonistic and aggressive interactions and leading to higher basal levels of glucocorticoids. We assessed the relationships among fecal cortisol levels and reproductive condition, dominance rank, degree of social support, and fertility in female mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) living in a semi-free-ranging colony in Franceville, Gabon. Lower-ranking females in this colony have a reproductive disadvantage relative to higher-ranking females, and we were interested in determining whether this relationship between dominance rank and reproductive success is mediated through stress hormones. We analyzed 340 fecal samples from 19 females, collected over a 14-month period. We found that pregnant females experienced higher fecal cortisol levels than cycling or lactating females. This is similar to results for other primate species and is likely owing to increased metabolic demands and interactions between the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, estrogen, and placental production of corticotrophin releasing hormones during pregnancy. There was no influence of dominance rank on fecal cortisol levels, suggesting that subordinate females do not suffer chronic stress. This may be because female mandrills have a stable social hierarchy, with low levels of aggression and high social support. However, we found no relationship between matriline size, as a measure of social support, and fecal cortisol levels. Subordinates may be able to avoid aggression from dominants in the large enclosure or may react only transiently to specific aggressive events, rather than continuously expecting them. Finally, we found no relationship between fecal cortisol levels and fertility. There was no difference in fecal cortisol levels between conceptive and nonconceptive cycles, and no significant relationship between fecal cortisol level and either the length of postpartum amenorrhea or the number of cycles before conception. This suggests that the influence of dominance rank on female reproductive success in this population is not mediated through chronic stress in subordinate females, and that alternative explanations of the relationship between social rank and reproduction should be sought.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Stress, Fecal cortisol, Dominance rank, Reproduction, Allostatic load.
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This is the accepted version of the following article: Setchell, J. M., Smith, T., Wickings, E. J. and Knapp, L. A. (2008) 'Factors affecting fecal glucocorticoid levels in semi-free-ranging female mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx).', American journal of primatology., 70 (11). pp. 1023-1032., which has been published in final form at
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:17 April 2014
Date of first online publication:November 2008
Date first made open access:No date available

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar