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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Female social relationships are often shaped by the distribution of dietary resources. Socioecological models predict that females should form strict linear dominance hierarchies when resources are clumped and exhibit more egalitarian social structures when resources are evenly distributed. While many frugivores and omnivores indeed exhibit dominance hierarchies accompanied by differential resource access, many folivores deviate from the expected pattern and display dominance hierarchies despite evenly distributed resources. Among these outliers, geladas (Theropithecus gelada) present a conspicuous puzzle; females exhibit aggressive competition and strict dominance hierarchies despite feeding primarily on non-monopolizable grasses. However, these grasses become scarce in the dry season and geladas supplement their diet with underground storage organs that require relatively extensive energy to extract. We tested whether female dominance hierarchies provide differential access to underground storage organs by assessing how rank, season, and feeding context affect aggression in geladas under long-term study in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. We found that the likelihood of receiving aggression was highest when feeding belowground and that the inverse relationship between rank and aggression was the most extreme while feeding belowground in the dry season. These results suggest that aggression in geladas revolves around belowground foods, which may mean that underground storage organs are an energetically central dietary component (despite being consumed less frequently than grasses), or that even “fallback” foods can influence feeding competition and social relationships. Further work should assess whether aggression in this context is directly associated with high-ranking usurpation of belowground foods from lower-ranking females following extraction.

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  3. Abstract

    Neopterin, a product of activated white blood cells, is a marker of nonspecific inflammation that can capture variation in immune investment or disease-related immune activity and can be collected noninvasively in urine. Mounting studies in wildlife point to lifetime patterns in neopterin related to immune development, aging, and certain diseases, but rarely are studies able to assess whether neopterin can capture multiple concurrent dimensions of health and disease in a single system. We assessed the relationship between urinary neopterin stored on filter paper and multiple metrics of health and disease in wild geladas (Theropithecus gelada), primates endemic to the Ethiopian highlands. We tested whether neopterin captures age-related variation in inflammation arising from developing immunity in infancy and chronic inflammation in old age, inflammation related to intramuscular tapeworm infection, helminth-induced anti-inflammatory immunomodulation, and perturbations in the gastrointestinal microbiome. We found that neopterin had a U-shaped relationship with age, no association with larval tapeworm infection, a negative relationship with metrics related to gastrointestinal helminth infection, and a negative relationship with microbial diversity. Together with growing research on neopterin and specific diseases, our results demonstrate that urinary neopterin can be a powerful tool for assessing multiple dimensions of health and disease in wildlife.

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  4. Abstract

    Female reproductive maturation is a critical life-history milestone, initiating an individual’s reproductive career. Studies in social mammals have often focused on how variables related to nutrition influence maturation age in females. However, parallel investigations have identified conspicuous male-mediated effects in which female maturation is sensitive to the presence and relatedness of males. Here, we evaluated whether the more “classic” socioecological variables (i.e., maternal rank, group size) predict maturation age in wild geladas—a primate species with known male-mediated effects on maturation and a grassy diet that is not expected to generate intense female competition. Females delayed maturation in the presence of their fathers and quickly matured when unrelated, dominant males arrived. Controlling for these male effects, however, higher-ranking daughters matured at earlier ages than lower-ranking daughters, suggesting an effect of within-group contest competition. However, contrary to predictions related to within-group scramble competition, females matured earliest in larger groups. We attribute this result to either: 1) a shift to “faster” development in response to the high infant mortality risk posed by larger groups; or 2) accelerated maturation triggered by brief, unobserved male visits. While earlier ages at maturation were indeed associated with earlier ages at first birth, these benefits were occasionally offset by male takeovers, which can delay successful reproduction via spontaneous abortion. In sum, rank-related effects on reproduction can still occur even when socioecological theory would predict otherwise, and males (and the risks they pose) may prompt female maturation even outside of successful takeovers.

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  5. Abstract

    As fecal steroid methods increasingly are used by researchers to monitor the physiology of captive and wild populations, we need to expand our validation protocols to test the effects of procedural variation and to identify contamination by exogenous sources of steroid hormones. Mammalian carnivore feces often contain large amounts of hair from the prey they consume, which itself may contain high concentrations of hormones. In this study, we report first a validation of two steroid hormone antibodies, corticosterone and progesterone, to determine fecal concentrations of these hormones in wild spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). Next, we expand on these standard validation protocols to test two additional metrics: (i) whether hair from consumed prey or (ii) the specific drying method (oven incubation vs. lyophilization) affect steroid hormone concentrations in feces. In the first biological validation for the progesterone antibody in this species, progesterone concentrations met our expectations: (i) concentrations of plasma and fecal progesterone were lowest in immature females, higher in lactating females, and highest in pregnant females; (ii) across pregnant females, fecal progesterone concentrations were highest during late pregnancy; and (iii) among lactating females, fecal progesterone concentrations were highest after parturition. Our additional validation experiments indicated that contamination with prey hair and drying method are hormone-specific. Although prey hair did not release hormones into samples during storage or extraction for either hormone, its presence appeared to “dilute” progesterone (but not corticosterone) measures indirectly by increasing the dry weight of samples. In addition, fecal progesterone, but not corticosterone, values were lower for lyophilized than for incubated samples. Therefore, in addition to the standard analytical and biological validation steps, additional methodological variables need to be tested whenever we measure fecal hormone concentrations, particularly from predatory mammals.

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