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Horm Behav. 2017 Jan;87:62-68. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.10.018. Epub 2016 Oct 30.

Is social dispersal stressful? A study in male crested macaques (Macaca nigra).

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Department of Population Health and Reproduction, University of California Davis, USA; Junior Research Group Primate Sexual Selection, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany; Reproductive Biology Unit, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany. Electronic address:
Junior Research Group Primate Sexual Selection, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany.
Endocrinology Laboratory, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany.
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Bogor Agriculture University, Indonesia.
Junior Research Group Primate Sexual Selection, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany; Faculty of Science, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, UK.


In gregarious species, dispersal events represent one of the most dramatic changes in social life and environment an animal will experience during life due to increased predation risk, aggression from unfamiliar conspecifics and the lack of social support. However, little is known about how individuals respond physiologically to dispersal and whether this process is stressful for the individuals involved. We therefore studied the physiological stress response during dispersal in the crested macaque, a primate species in which males often change groups. Over a period of 14months and 14 dispersal events in 4 groups, we determined faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGCM) levels during the process of immigration into a new group and examined a variety of factors (e.g. male age, rank achieved, number of males in the group) potentially affecting FGCM levels during this process. We found that FGCM levels were significantly elevated in the first few days upon immigration, after which levels returned quickly to baseline. FGCM response levels upon immigration were significantly and positively influenced by the number of males in the group. The rank a male achieved upon immigration, aggression received, as well as the proximity to other males did not significantly influence FGCM levels. Our data confirm previous findings on other species demonstrating that in crested macaques immigration into a new social group is associated with an acute endocrine stress response. However, given that stress hormone levels remained elevated only for a short period of time, we do not expect males to experience high physiological costs during immigration. Given our limited knowledge on the physiological responses to dispersal in animals, this study contributes to our understanding of dispersal more generally, and particularly inter-individual differences in the stress response and the potential physiological costs associated with these.

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