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Horm Behav. 2012 Nov;62(5):553-62. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.09.005. Epub 2012 Sep 23.

Estrogenic plant consumption predicts red colobus monkey (Procolobus rufomitratus) hormonal state and behavior.

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Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-3114, USA.


Numerous studies have examined the effects of anthropogenic endocrine disrupting compounds; however, very little is known about the effects of naturally occurring plant-produced estrogenic compounds (i.e., phytoestrogens) on vertebrates. To examine the seasonal pattern of phytoestrogen consumption and its relationship to hormone levels (407 fecal samples analyzed for estradiol and cortisol) and social behavior (aggression, mating, and grooming) in a primate, we conducted an 11-month field study of red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus) in Kibale National Park, Uganda. The percent of diet from estrogenic plants averaged 10.7% (n=45 weeks; range: 0.7-32.4%). Red colobus fed more heavily on estrogenic Millettia dura young leaves during weeks of higher rainfall, and the consumption of this estrogenic item was positively correlated to both their fecal estradiol and cortisol levels. Social behaviors were related to estradiol and cortisol levels, as well as the consumption of estrogenic plants and rainfall. The more the red colobus consumed estrogenic plants the higher their rates of aggression and copulation and the lower their time spent grooming. Our results suggest that the consumption of estrogenic plants has important implications for primate health and fitness through interactions with the endocrine system and changes in hormone levels and social behaviors.

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