Primatology, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Friday 10:15-10:30, Ballroom A
Cortisol excretion in males of group living species is often associated with social rank and competition for estrous females. Rank-related patterns of cortisol levels can be used to study mechanisms of rank maintenance and costs associated with mate competition. Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are interesting because males form a linear dominance hierarchy but are not dominant over females and therefore aggressive male-male competition over access to females alone is not considered to be a successful reproductive strategy. In this study on social correlates of urinary cortisol in wild male bonobos, we investigated the relationship between cortisol levels and several aspects of mate competition, including male rank, aggression rates, and association time with estrous females. We found that cortisol levels correlated positively with dominance rank when estrous females were present, but not when they were absent. This result indicates that aggressive behaviour plays a minor role in maintenance of high rank. While aggression received from males and females explained within-individual variation in cortisol levels, it was the time spent in association with estrous females that best explained between-individual variation in male cortisol levels. The observed increase in male cortisol may be associated with spatial proximity to estrous females and could result from anticipated aggression from other group members, reduced feeding time in the males, or a combination of both.
The work has been supported by the Max-Planck-Society and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation