The endocrinology of male rhesus macaque social and reproductive status: A test of the challenge and social stress hypotheses

James P. Higham, Michael Heistermann, Dario Maestripieri

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Social status primarily determines male mammalian reproductive success, and hypotheses on the endocrinology of dominance have stimulated unprecedented investigation of its costs and benefits. Under the challenge hypothesis, male testosterone levels rise according to competitive need, while the social stress hypothesis predicts glucocorticoid (GC) rises in high-ranking individuals during social unrest. Periods of social instability in group-living primates, primarily in baboons, provide evidence for both hypotheses, but data on social instability in seasonally breeding species with marked social despotism but lower reproductive skew are lacking. We tested these hypotheses in seasonally breeding rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. We documented male fecal GC and androgen levels over a 10-month period in relation to rank, age, natal status, and group tenure length, including during a socially unstable period in which coalitions of lower ranked males attacked higher ranked males. Androgen, but not GC, levels rose during the mating season; older males had lower birth season levels but underwent a greater inter-season rise than younger males. Neither endocrine measure was related to rank except during social instability, when higher ranked individuals had higher and more variable levels of both. High-ranking male targets had the highest GC levels of all males when targeted and also had high and variable GC and androgen levels across the instability period. Our results provide evidence for both the challenge and social stress hypotheses.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)19-30
    Number of pages12
    JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 2013


    • Challenge hypothesis
    • Dominance
    • Male-male competition
    • Social status
    • Social stress

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Animal Science and Zoology


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