Higher dominance rank is associated with lower glucocorticoids in wild female baboons: A rank metric comparison.


In vertebrates, glucocorticoid secretion occurs in response to energetic and psychosocial stressors that trigger the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Measuring glucocorticoid concentrations can therefore shed light on the stressors associated with different social and environmental variables, including dominance rank. Using 14,172 fecal samples from 237 wild female baboons, we test the hypothesis that high-ranking females experience fewer psychosocial and/or energetic stressors than lower-ranking females. We predicted that high-ranking females would have lower fecal glucocorticoid (fGC) concentrations than low-ranking females. Because dominance rank can be measured in multiple ways, we employ an information theoretic approach to compare 5 different measures of rank as predictors of fGC concentrations: ordinal rank; proportional rank; Elo rating; and two approaches to categorical ranking (alpha vs non-alpha and high-middle-low). Our hypothesis was supported, but it was also too simplistic. We found that alpha females exhibited substantially lower fGCs than other females (typical reduction = 8.2%). If we used proportional rank instead of alpha versus non-alpha status in the model, we observed a weak effect of rank such that fGCs rose 4.2% from the highest- to lowest-ranking female in the hierarchy. Models using ordinal rank, Elo rating, or high-middle-low categories alone failed to explain variation in female fGCs. Our findings shed new light on the association between dominance rank and the stress response, the competitive landscape of female baboons as compared to males, and the assumptions inherent in a researcher's choice of rank metric.





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Publication Info

Levy, Emily J, Laurence R Gesquiere, Emily McLean, Mathias Franz, J Kinyua Warutere, Serah N Sayialel, Raphael S Mututua, Tim L Wango, et al. (2020). Higher dominance rank is associated with lower glucocorticoids in wild female baboons: A rank metric comparison. Hormones and behavior, 125. p. 104826. 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2020.104826 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21551.

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Susan C. Alberts

Robert F. Durden Distinguished Professor of Biology

Research in the Alberts Lab investigates the evolution of social behavior, particularly in mammals, with a specific focus on the social behavior, demography, life history, and behavioral endocrinology of wild primates. Our main study system is the baboon population in Amboseli, Kenya, one of the longest-running studies of wild primates in the world, ongoing since 1971.

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