Hair cortisol concentration (HCC) provides a long-term retrospective measure of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity, and is increasingly used to assess the life history, health and ecology of wild mammals. Given that sex, age, season and pregnancy influence HCC, and that it may indicate ongoing stress, we examined HCC in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) naturally inhabiting a hot and dry semi-desert like habitat, Caatinga, in northeastern Brazil. We trapped, measured, weighed, marked and collected shaved hair from the back of the neck of 61 wild marmosets during the wet and dry seasons. Using enzyme immunoassay, we found that HCC was higher in the dry season compared with the wet season among all age/sex classes. Females had significantly higher HCC than males, juveniles had higher HCC than adults, and reproductively active adult females and non-pregnant/non lactating adult females did not differ in HCC. There were no interaction effects of sex, age, group, or season on HCC. The magnitude of the effect of this extremely hot and dry environment (average yearly rainfall was only 271 mm) on HCC in common marmosets is difficult to ascertain as these animals are also experiencing a variety of other stressors. However, the elevated HCC seen in common marmosets during the 5–8 month dry season, suggests these primates face an extended period of heat, water and possibly nutritional stress, which appears to result in a high rate of juvenile mortality.
Garber, P. A., McKenney, A., Bartling-John, E., Bicca-Marques, J. C., de la Fuente, M. F., Abreu, F., Schiel, N., ... & Phillips, K. A. (2020). Life in a harsh environment: The effects of age, sex, reproductive condition, and season on hair cortisol concentration in a wild non-human primate. PeerJ, 8, e9365. doi: 10.7717/peerj.9365
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