Baby on board: olfactory cues indicate pregnancy and fetal sex in a non-human primate.

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2015-02

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Abstract

Olfactory cues play an integral, albeit underappreciated, role in mediating vertebrate social and reproductive behaviour. These cues fluctuate with the signaller's hormonal condition, coincident with and informative about relevant aspects of its reproductive state, such as pubertal onset, change in season and, in females, timing of ovulation. Although pregnancy dramatically alters a female's endocrine profiles, which can be further influenced by fetal sex, the relationship between gestation and olfactory cues is poorly understood. We therefore examined the effects of pregnancy and fetal sex on volatile genital secretions in the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), a strepsirrhine primate possessing complex olfactory mechanisms of reproductive signalling. While pregnant, dams altered and dampened their expression of volatile chemicals, with compound richness being particularly reduced in dams bearing sons. These changes were comparable in magnitude with other, published chemical differences among lemurs that are salient to conspecifics. Such olfactory 'signatures' of pregnancy may help guide social interactions, potentially promoting mother-infant recognition, reducing intragroup conflict or counteracting behavioural mechanisms of paternity confusion; cues that also advertise fetal sex may additionally facilitate differential sex allocation.

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10.1098/rsbl.2014.0831

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Crawford, JC, and CM Drea (2015). Baby on board: olfactory cues indicate pregnancy and fetal sex in a non-human primate. Biol Lett, 11(2). p. 20140831. 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0831 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9493.

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Drea

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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