The study of physiological stress and its context in free-ranging animals provides a means for understanding the challenges found in the natural habitat. Patterns of physiological stress in free-ranging animals have yet to be well characterized. Methodological difficulties in measuring physiological responses in the natural habitat have limited this area of research. In this research, physiological stress in free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs, Lemur catta , was estimated using a steroid-extraction method to measure cortisol levels from female faeces. Ten females were observed across two social groups in southwestern Madagascar during a 5-month period including portions of the annual wet and dry seasons. I used behavioural measures to estimate predation threat, food accessibility and individual dominance status, to determine whether these variables predict faecal cortisol levels. Faecal cortisol levels were relatively high during two distinct periods: one period coincided with late gestation and the other period corresponded with the end of the dry season, when high-intensity antipredatory behaviour and estimates of feeding effort were elevated. In addition, faecal cortisol measures were significantly correlated with dominance indices: high-index individuals had high cortisol values, and low-index individuals had low cortisol values. These results suggest that faecal cortisol measures can be used to assess seasonal and individual differences in adrenal activity in this lemurid primate, and that this measure could provide a means for quantifying physiological stress in free-ranging animals.
Animal Behaviour – Elsevier
Published: Apr 1, 1999
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