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Horm Behav. 2008 Jan;53(1):241-8. Epub 2007 Oct 12.

The implications of stress on male mating behavior and success in a sexually dimorphic polygynous mammal, the grey seal.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4JI.


Studies on primates and other taxa have shown that the physiological response of an individual to stress reflects their social status. We combined behavioral observations with measures of stress to test the hypothesis that stress is an important physiological determinant of mating behavior and success in the male grey seal. Known-age males (N=19) were studied during the breeding seasons of 2004 and 2005 at Sable Island, Canada. The stressor was a capture and restraint period of 35 min and serial samples of cortisol and testosterone were taken as measures of stress. The mean baseline concentrations of cortisol and testosterone were 9.7+/-0.5 ug/dl and 6.2+/-0.6 ng/mL, respectively. The baseline cortisol concentration was negatively correlated with the duration of time a male spent at a site (r=-0.507, P=0.027), which was a strong correlate of mating success (r=0.659, P=0.002). All males experienced an increase in the concentration of cortisol during the restraint period (79.1+/-8.4%; CV=46.1%). The percentage rise in cortisol during restraint was correlated with the mean duration of time spent at a site (r=0.544, P=0.016) and thus success. The concentration of testosterone also increased during the restraint period (32.8+/-9.7%). This might be an adaptive response to maintaining the ability to reproduce while under stress. Our study indicates that stress is an important determinant of success in male grey seals. More successful males might exhibit an adaptive response to stress by maintaining low concentrations of cortisol during breeding.

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