Elevated urinary testosterone excretion and decreased maternal caregiving effort in marmosets when conception occurs during the period of infant dependence

Jeffrey E. Fite, Jeffrey A. French, Kimberly J. Patera, Elizabeth C. Hopkins, Michael Rukstalis, Corinna N. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations


The proximate mechanisms that regulate transitions in mammalian female reproductive effort have not been widely studied. However, variation in circulating levels of the androgenic steroid hormone testosterone (T) appears to mediate a trade-off between investment in current and future offspring in males [Ketterson, E.D., Nolan, V., Jr., 1992. Hormones and life histories: an integrative approach. Am. Nat. 140, S33-S62; Ketterson, E.D., Nolan, V., Jr., 1994. Hormones and life histories: an integrative approach. In: L.A. Real (Ed.), Behavioral Mechanisms in Evolutionary Ecology, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 327-353; Ketterson, E. D., Nolan, V., Jr., 1999. Adaptation, exaptation, and constraint: A hormonal perspective. Am. Nat. 154S, S4-S25]. The purpose of this study was to investigate the possibility that T is also associated with transitions in the reproductive effort of females, by examining the relationship between urinary T excretion, maternal caregiving behavior, and the timing of the postpartum conception in female Wied's black tufted-ear marmosets (Callithrix kuhlii). We examined the maternal carrying effort and peripartum T profiles of six females across two conditions: (1) when they conceived during the period of infant dependence (DPID), such that gestation was coupled with lactation; and (2) when the same females conceived after the period of infant dependence (APID). We also assessed the relationship between postpartum T levels and caregiving effort. When female marmosets conceived DPID, they dramatically reduced their caregiving effort, and had higher levels of urinary T, relative to when they conceived APID. Further, the litter-to-litter changes in maternal caregiving effort that we observed were related to variation in urinary T excretion; as weekly levels of urinary T excretion increased, concurrent caregiving effort declined. Our results suggest that variation in T secretion may regulate transitions in female reproductive behavior, and that the regulation of male and female parental behavior may be mediated by homologous neuroendocrine mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-48
Number of pages10
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005



  • Callithrix kuhlii
  • Callitrichid
  • Conception
  • Infant care
  • Marmoset
  • Maternal behavior
  • Postpartum
  • Reproduction
  • Testosterone
  • Trade-offs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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