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Infant bystanders modulate the influence of ovarian hormones on female socio-sexual behaviour in free-ranging rhesus macaques

In: Behaviour
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  • 1 Department of Comparative Human Development, 5730 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA; Institute for Mind and Biology, University of Chicago, 940 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
  • | 2 Institute for Mind and Biology, University of Chicago, 940 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA; Junior Research Group on Primate Sexual Selection, Reproductive Biology Unit, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
  • | 3 Reproductive Biology Unit, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
  • | 4 Department of Comparative Human Development, 5730 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA; Institute for Mind and Biology, University of Chicago, 940 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
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Abstract

It has long been established that one of the driving factors underlying changes in female socio-sexual behaviour across the ovarian cycle is variation in the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. However, the effect that the social environment, and specifically con-specific bystanders, exerts on social relationships is far less clear. Here we explore the modulating effects of infant bystanders on relationships between female ovarian cycling and socio-sexual behaviour in free-ranging rhesus macaques during the 6-month mating season on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. We used non-invasive hormone assessment to time ovulation in females, and analysed measures of social and sexual behaviour with respect to a 2-day ovulation window. Rates of copulation and ejaculation varied relative to ovulation, with female–male sexual interactions peaking around ovulation. Moreover, the presence of an infant bystander affected these rates, with fewer sexual interactions occurring for a given day with respect to ovulation when infant bystanders were more frequently in close proximity to the female. Other bystander categories (adult females, adult males, and adult female & infant groupings) did not have the same effect on female mating behaviour. These results suggest that mother–offspring conflict might manifest not only as direct interactions between mother and infant (e.g., weaning or carrying conflict), but also through indirect interactions.

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