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Olfactory signals and fertility in olive baboons

Vaglio, Stefano and Minicozzi, Pamela and Kessler, Sharon E. and Walker, David and Setchell, Joanna M. (2021) 'Olfactory signals and fertility in olive baboons.', Scientific reports., 11 (1). p. 8506.


Female primates signal impending ovulation with a suite of sexual signals. Studies of these signals have focussed on visual, and to a lesser extent, acoustic signals, neglecting olfactory signals. We aimed to investigate the information content of female olfactory signals in captive olive baboons (Papio anubis) and relate these to the female fertile period. We studied eight adult females living in four groups at the CNRS Station de Primatologie, Rousset-sur-Arc, France. We used vaginal cytology to detect ovulation. We investigated the volatile component of odour signals using solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. We found a total of 74 volatile compounds, of which we tentatively identified 25, including several ketones, alcohols, aldehydes, terpenes, volatile fatty acids and hydrocarbons that have been identified in odour profiles of other primates. Our results show that vaginal odour intensity differs with sexual cycle stage suggesting that odour might play a role in signalling female baboon fertility. We found differences in vaginal odour between females living in all-female and in mixed sex groups but we could not distinguish the effects of group composition, female age and identity. This study of olfactory signalling improves our understanding of how female primates advertise their sexual receptivity.

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Publisher statement:Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Date accepted:25 March 2021
Date deposited:11 May 2021
Date of first online publication:19 April 2021
Date first made open access:11 May 2021

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