Annual Physiological Changes in Individually Housed Squirrel Monkeys (Saimiri sciureus)

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This study investigated whether annual changes in physiology occur in individually housed squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus). Physiological measures were monitored for 20 months. Over the course of the study, all individually housed males and females exhibited clear annual changes in gonadal and adrenal hormone levels, and males exhibited species-typical changes in body weight. Females exhibited a typical pattern of hormonal changes, with elevations in gonadal steroids occurring during the same months as elevations in cortisol. Males, however, exhibited an atypical pattern, as elevations in hormone levels were not synchronized with each other; rather, elevations in testosterone occurred out of phase with changes in cortisol and body weight. The timing of annual events in individually housed subjects was compared to that in nearby social groups, in which the timing of the breeding season from year to year was determined by social group formations and was outside the naturally occurring breeding season. Elevations of ovarian and adrenocortical hormones in individually housed females were synchronized with indices of breeding in heterosexual social groups. Similarly, weight gain in males was associated with elevations in cortisol and, as with socially housed males, tended to precede seasonal breeding in the social groups. In contrast, annual testosterone elevations for individually housed males were not synchronized with breeding in nearby social groups. We conclude that direct physical interaction is not required for the annual expression of breeding readiness. Synchrony of seasonality among squirrel monkeys may be accomplished by distant social cues in females, but males may require physical interaction for complete synchrony of annual physiological changes.

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