Organizational and activational androgens, lemur social play, and the ontogeny of female dominance.

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The role of androgens in shaping "masculine" traits in males is a core focus in behavioral endocrinology, but relatively little is known about an androgenic role in female aggression and social dominance. In mammalian models of female dominance, including the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), links to androgens in adulthood are variable. We studied the development of ring-tailed lemurs to address the behavioral basis and ontogenetic mechanisms of female dominance. We measured behavior and serum androgen concentrations in 24 lemurs (8 males, 16 females) from infancy to early adulthood, and assessed their 'prenatal' androgen milieu using serum samples obtained from their mothers during gestation. Because logistical constraints limited the frequency of infant blood sampling, we accounted for asynchrony between behavioral and postnatal hormone measurements via imputation procedures. Imputation was unnecessary for prenatal hormone measurements. The typical sex difference in androgen concentrations in young lemurs was consistent with adult conspecifics and most other mammals; however, we found no significant sex differences in rough-and-tumble play. Female (but not male) aggression increased beginning at approximately 15 months, coincident with female puberty. In our analyses relating sexually differentiated behavior to androgens, we found no relationship with activational hormones, but several significant relationships with organizational hormones. Notably, associations of prenatal androstenedione and testosterone with behavior were differentiated, both by offspring sex and by type of behavior within offspring sexes. We discuss the importance of considering (1) missing data in behavioral endocrinology research, and (2) organizational androgens other than testosterone in studies of female dominance.





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Grebe, Nicholas M, Courtney Fitzpatrick, Katherine Sharrock, Anne Starling and Christine M Drea (2019). Organizational and activational androgens, lemur social play, and the ontogeny of female dominance. Hormones and behavior, 115. p. 104554. 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2019.07.002 Retrieved from

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Christine M. Drea

Professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology

I have two broad research interests, sexual differentiation and social behavior, both focused on hyenas and primates. I am particularly interested in unusual species in which the females display a suite of masculinized characteristics, including male- like or exaggerated external genitalia and social dominance.
The study of naturally occurring hormones in such unique mammals can reveal general processes of hormonal activity, expressed in genital morphology, reproductive development, and social behavior. Taking a combined laboratory and field approach allows me to relate captive data to various facets of the animals' natural habitat, thereby enhancing the ecological validity of assay procedures and enriching interpretation in an evolutionary framework. The goal of comparative studies of hyenas and lemurs is to help elucidate the mechanisms of mammalian sexual differentiation.

My research program in social behavior focuses on social learning and group cohesion. Using naturalistic tasks that I present to captive animals in socially relevant contexts, I can investigate how social interaction modulates behavior, problem- solving, and cognitive performance. By studying and comparing models of carnivore and primate foraging, I can better understand how group-living animals modify their actions to meet environmental demands. A primary interest is determining whether similar factors, related to having a complex social organization, influence learning and performance across taxonomic groups. I am also interested in how animals learn rules of social conduct and maintain social cohesion, as evidenced by their patterns of behavioral developmental, the intricate balance between aggression and play, the expression of scent marking, and the social facilitation or inhibition of behavior.

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