Studying immunity and immune function in ecology and evolution requires field studies, but there has been a dearth of non-invasive markers of immune activation available for studying large wild mammals. Recently, we analytically and biologically validated the measurement of urinary neopterin (NEO), a biomarker of cellular immune activation, in captive macaques. However, applying this to free-ranging settings is complicated by issues involving sample collection, processing, storage, and transport. Here, we collected urine samples from captive macaques and undertook experiments simulating common field issues. We tested the effects on urinary NEO sample measurements following: dirt and faecal contamination; storage at room temperature; differences in processing and long-term storage methods (freezing, lyophilising, blotting onto filter paper); and freeze-thaw cycles. Our results show that concentrations of urinary NEO are highly stable-they are not affected by soil or faecal contamination, can be collected on filter paper and stored for many months frozen or lyophilised with minimal effect, and are resistant to multiple 24 hr freeze-thaws. With the addition of a biocidal preservative, concentrations are even stable at room temperature for long periods. Urinary NEO is remarkably resilient, and is highly suitable for non-invasive field studies of cellular immune responses in wild large mammals.
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