Exceptional endocrine profiles characterise the meerkat : sex, status, and reproductive patterns

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 5
  • Abstract:

    In vertebrates, reproductive endocrine concentrations are strongly differentiated by sex, with androgen biases typifying males and estrogen biases typifying females. These sex differences can be reduced in female-dominant species; however, even the most masculinised of females have less testosterone (T) than do conspecific males. To test if aggressively dominant, female meerkats (Suricata suricatta) may be hormonally masculinised, we measured serum androstenedione (A4), T and estradiol (E2) in both sexes and social classes, during both ‘baseline’ and reproductive events. Relative to resident males, dominant females had greater A4, equivalent T and greater E2 concentrations. Males, whose endocrine values did not vary by social status, experienced increased T during reproductive forays, linking T to sexual behaviour, but not social status. Moreover, substantial E2 concentrations in male meerkats may facilitate their role as helpers. In females, dominance status and pregnancy magnified the unusual concentrations of measured sex steroids. Lastly, faecal androgen metabolites replicated the findings derived from serum, highlighting the female bias in total androgens. Female meerkats are thus strongly hormonally masculinised, possibly via A4’s bioavailability for conversion to T. These raised androgen concentrations may explain female aggressiveness in this species and give dominant breeders a heritable mechanism for their daughters’ competitive edge.