Impact of social environment on female chimpanzee reproductive cycles

Ivo Machatschke, Bernard Wallner, John Dittami

The socio-sexual environment of a female is known to affect ovarian function. Increased male contact can enhance menstrual cycle regularity. Conversely, social deprivation constitutes a form of stress that often alters cyclicity and the secretion of reproductive hormones. The present study was carried out on captive female chimpanzees to examine possible interactions among housing conditions, menstrual cycle length, morphological changes in secondary sexual character expression and endocrine release patterns related to follicular and luteal function. Animals were housed over a period of 2 years either with a male conspecific or singly. Blood samples were collected over three cycles, and anogenital swelling changes registered to define menstrual cycle phases. Fecal sampling techniques were used to monitor cortisol as a measure of stress-load. Male presence seemed to affect female cyclicity. Females housed with a male had shorter and more regular cycles than singly housed females. Prolactin, gonadotropins and estradiol levels were generally higher in paired females during specific cycle phases. Group variation was not always significant. No differences were found in progesterone. Sexually cohabited females tended to have lower fecal cortisol metabolites immediately before and after maximum tumescence. We suggest that the close behavioral, physical and olfactory contact with a male conspecific can act as a sort of zeitgeber to modulate ovarian function by stabilizing the female cycle and, perhaps, enhancing folliculogenesis and ovulation. Π2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Hormones and Behavior
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Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
1060 Biology
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