Testosterone and cortisol concentrations vary with reproductive status in wild female red deer

Alyson T. Pavitt, Josephine Pemberton, Loeske Kruuk, Craig Walling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although hormones are key regulators of many fitness and life history traits, the causes of individual level variation in hormones, particularly in wild systems, remain understudied. Whilst we know that androgen and glucocorticoid levels vary within and among individuals in mammalian populations, how this relates to key reproductive processes such as gestation and lactation, and their effects on a female's measurable hormone levels are poorly understood in wild systems. Using fecal samples collected from females in a wild red deer population between 2001 and 2013, we explore how fecal androgen (FAM) and cortisol (FCM) metabolite concentrations change with age and season, and how individual differences relate to variation in reproductive state. Both FAM and FCM levels increase toward parturition, although this only affects FCM levels in older females. FCM levels are also higher when females suckle a male rather than a female calf, possibly due to the higher energetic costs of raising a son. This illustrates the importance of accounting for a female's life history and current reproductive status, as well as temporal variation, when examining individual differences in hormone levels. We discuss these findings in relation to other studies of mammalian systems and in particular to the relatively scarce information on variation in natural levels of hormones in wild populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1163–1172
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume6
Early online date25 Jan 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

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