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Journal Article

Bonobo mothers have elevated urinary cortisol levels during early but not mid or late lactation (advance online)

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Nurmi, N., Sonnweber, R., Schülke, O., Moscovice, L. R., Deschner, T., & Hohmann, G. (2022). Bonobo mothers have elevated urinary cortisol levels during early but not mid or late lactation (advance online). Primates. doi:10.1007/s10329-022-01044-7.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-CB4A-D
In mammals, the costs of reproduction are biased towards females. Lactation is particularly energetically expensive, and
behavioral and physiological data indicate that maternal effort during lactation induces energetic stress. Another source of
stress in females is male aggression directed towards them when they are cycling. Evaluating the costs of reproduction in
wild and mobile animals can be a challenging task, and requires detailed information on state-dependent parameters such as
hormone levels. Glucocorticoid (GC) levels are indicative of nutritional and social stress, and are widely used to assess the
costs of reproduction. We investigated variation in urinary levels of cortisol, the main GC in female bonobos (Pan paniscus),
between and within reproductive stages. Female chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), the closest living relative of the bonobos,
are often exposed to intense aggression from males, which causes a significant rise in their cortisol levels during the phase
of their maximum fecundity. In bonobos, males compete for access to fertile females, but aggressive male mating strategies
are absent in this species. Therefore, we expected that GC levels of cycling female bonobos would be lower than those of
lactating females. Due to the long period of offspring care in bonobos, we expected that GC levels would remain elevated
into the late stage of lactation, when immatures gain body weight but may still be nursed and carried by their mothers. We
found elevated urinary GC levels only during the early stage of lactation. The GC levels of cycling females did not differ
from those in the mid or late lactation stage. Behavioral strategies of female bonobos may allow them to compensate for the
elevated energetic demands of lactation and prolonged maternal care.