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Horm Behav. 2000 May;37(3):246-55.

Mating season aggression and fecal testosterone levels in male ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta).

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.


The challenge hypothesis (J. C. Wingfield, R. E. Hegner, B. G. Ball, and A. M. Duffy, 1990, Am. Nat. 136, 829-846) proposes that in birds, reptiles, and fish, "the frequency or intensity of reproductive aggression as an effect of T[estosterone] is strongest in situations of social instability, such as during the formation of dominance relationships, the establishment of territorial boundaries, or challenges by a conspecific male for a territory or access to mates" (p. 833). To determine the extension of this hypothesis to mammalian species, we tested predictions of the hypothesis in a nonpaternal, seasonal breeding, prosimian primate (ring-tailed lemurs, Lemur catta). Semi-free-ranging males were studied during periods of social stability (premating period) and instability (mating period). The annual mating season consists of several days during which males fight for access to promiscuous group females as each individually becomes sexually receptive for 1 day. Male rates of aggression were compared to fecal testosterone levels within premating and mating periods. In the premating period male rate of aggression was not significantly correlated with testosterone level. By contrast, during the mating season testosterone and aggression levels were positively and significantly correlated. However, on days just preceding estrus, male rate of aggression was not significantly correlated with testosterone, but on days of estrus, when aggressive challenges peaked sharply, testosterone and aggression were highly positively correlated. These results suggest that the challenge hypothesis applies to mammals as well as to birds, reptiles, and fish. In addition, elevations in testosterone were tightly circumscribed around days of estrus, suggesting a compromise between costs and benefits of elevated testosterone levels.

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