Age and socially related changes in fecal androgen metabolite concentrations in free-ranging male giraffes
Abstract In many mammal species, androgen levels in males are elevated during periods of mating activity, often to facilitate aggressive behavior between males over access to fertile females. However, this pattern might be less obvious in species with a rather low male-male aggression rate, or in those that are not strictly seasonal breeders. A complex social structure, as well as additional social and environmental factors, might add more to the complexity. Here, we applied a non-invasive method to monitor fecal androgen metabolite (fAM) levels in free-ranging giraffe bulls over a period of months to examine longitudinal patterns of androgen metabolite concentrations in relation to observed male sexual behavior in different age classes. Giraffes are non-seasonal breeders, living in a fission–fusion social system and males show a roaming strategy to search for fertile females. Our results show that season has an impact on fAM levels in free-ranging giraffes, with respective steroid concentrations being higher in summer. In the presence of females, fAM levels of bulls are significantly higher compared to when found in all-male groups, with old adult bulls showing the highest fAM levels. In contrast, young adult bulls have overall slightly higher fAM levels compared to old adult bulls when residing in all male groups. Sexual behavior increases fAM levels only in old adult bulls. Highlights Season has an impact on fecal androgen metabolite (fAM) levels in free-ranging giraffes. In the presence of females, old adult bulls have higher fAM levels than younger adult bulls. In all male groups, young adult bulls have higher fAM levels than old adult bulls. Sexual activity increases fAM levels, but only in old adult bulls.
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