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Effects of social environment on baseline glucocorticoid levels in a communally breeding rodent, the colonial tuco-tuco (Ctenomys sociabilis)



Effects of social environment on baseline glucocorticoid levels in a communally breeding rodent, the colonial tuco-tuco (Ctenomys sociabilis)



Hormones and Behavior 64(3): 566-572



The social environment in which an animal lives can profoundly impact its physiology, including glucocorticoid (GC) responses to external stressors. In social, group-living species, individuals may face stressors arising from regular interactions with conspecifics as well as those associated with basic life history needs such as acquiring food or shelter. To explore the relative contributions of these two types of stressors on glucocorticoid physiology in a communally breeding mammal, we characterized baseline GC levels in female colonial tuco-tucos (Ctenomys sociabilis), which are subterranean rodents endemic to southwestern Argentina. Long-term field studies have revealed that while about half of all yearling female C. sociabilis live and breed alone, the remainder live and breed within their natal group. We assessed the effects of this intraspecific variation in social environment on GC physiology by comparing concentrations of baseline fecal corticosterone metabolite (fCM) for (1) lone and group-living yearling females in a free-living population of C. sociabilis and (2) captive yearling female C. sociabilis that had been experimentally assigned to live alone or with conspecifics. In both cases, lone females displayed significantly higher mean baseline fCM concentrations. Data from free-living animals indicated that this outcome arose from differences in circadian patterns of GC production. fCM concentrations for group-living animals declined in the afternoon while fCM in lone individuals did not. These findings suggest that for C. sociabilis, stressors associated with basic life history functions present greater challenges than those arising from interactions with conspecifics. Our study is one of the first to examine GC levels in a plural-breeding mammal in which the effects of group-living are not confounded by differences in reproductive or dominance status, thereby generating important insights into the endocrine consequences of group-living.

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Accession: 037336827

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PMID: 23928366

DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.07.008


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