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Journal Article

Physiological mechanisms mediating patterns of reproductive suppression and alloparental care in cooperatively breeding carnivores

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Tracy, M. M., Pendleton, E. L., & Smith, J. E. (2018). Physiological mechanisms mediating patterns of reproductive suppression and alloparental care in cooperatively breeding carnivores. PHYSIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR, 193, 167-178. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.11.006.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-625B-5
Although cooperation represents a long-standing evolutionary puzzle, field studies on social carnivores have contributed greatly to our understanding of the selective forces favoring cooperative breeding. Despite these insights, our grasp of the proximate mechanisms facilitating cooperation in carnivores remains surprisingly limited. Here we provide an overview of our current knowledge of the endocrine mechanisms mediating cooperative breeding in terrestrial species belonging to the mammalian order Carnivora. We focus primarily on aspects of reproductive suppression and alloparental care. We find few studies on the topic, with some of the best studies focusing on the behavioral endocrinology of cooperative breeding in canids (dogs) and herpestids (mongooses). Overall, these studies suggest that breeding females typically have higher circulating levels of estrogen, luteinizing hormone, progesterone, and prolactin than do non-breeding adult females. We also find that among males, testosterone levels are often elevated in breeders compared to non-breeding adult males. The effect of glucocorticoids on reproductive suppression in carnivores appears to be sex-specific: breeding males typically have higher glucocorticoid levels than their non-breeding subordinates, but there is no clear pattern for breeding females. Finally, elevated levels of prolactin and oxytocin are consistently associated with alloparental care in cooperatively breeding carnivores, whereas testosterone and glucocorticoids are often lower in individuals who participate in alloparenting. Taken together, our synthesis elucidates striking gaps in our knowledge of carnivore physiology, especially the endocrine mechanisms promoting alloparental care, and we identify important areas for future research.