Coping with a challenging environment: effects of seasonal variability and reproductive status on glucocorticoid concentrations of female baboons (Papio cynocephalus)

Horm Behav. 2008 Aug;54(3):410-6. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.04.007. Epub 2008 Apr 24.


Environmental stressors impact physiology and behavior in many species of animals. These effects are partly mediated through changing concentrations of glucocorticoids, which also vary with reproductive state and social conditions. Prior research has focused largely on seasonal breeders, but the close temporal linkage between season and reproductive state in these species hinders ability to disentangle environmental effects from those of the animal's reproductive status. Here we assessed the effects of environmental challenges on the fecal glucocorticoid (fGC) levels of non-seasonal breeders, female baboons (Papio cynocephalus) of Amboseli, Kenya. Amboseli is characterized by a long dry season, during which food and water become scarce, and by extreme temperatures above 40 degrees C in the shade during some months of the year. We found that after accounting for female reproductive status and individual variability, females exhibited higher fGC levels during the dry season than during the wet season. Further, during the wet season, fGC levels were higher in months of high average daily maximum temperatures. During the dry season, fGC levels were elevated both in hotter months and in months during which the baboons spent a relatively high proportion of time feeding. In spite of these stressors, female baboons reproduce during all months of the year in Amboseli, unlike most other mammals in this environment. This may be attributable to their extreme adaptability, specifically their diversified diet, and their ability to modify their behavior, including their activity profiles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Disasters*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Food Deprivation / physiology*
  • Glucocorticoids / blood*
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Papio cynocephalus
  • Pregnancy
  • Seasons*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Environment*
  • Water Deprivation / physiology*


  • Glucocorticoids