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Social relationships may influence circulating glucocorticoid levels, particularly in group-living species in which individuals regularly engage in interactions with conspecifics. The effects of such interactions appear to vary, with greater social contact being associated with increased glucocorticoid concentrations in some species but decreased concentrations in others. These distinct responses raise intriguing questions regarding relationships among social behavior, individual phenotypes, and glucocorticoid physiology. To explore such relationships in a free-living mammal with a dynamic social organization, we quantified variation in baseline glucocorticoids in a population of highland tuco-tucos (Ctenomys opimus) from Jujuy Province, Argentina. These subterranean rodents are facultatively social, with lone and group-living individuals regularly occurring within the same population. To assess potential endocrine correlates of this behavioral variability, we examined differences in baseline fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCm) concentrations as a function of social group size and composition as well as several metrics of social behavior derived from social network analyses. Despite marked variability in social relationships among the 37 (12 male, 25 female) free-living tuco-tucos sampled, none of the measures of social behavior examined were significant predictors of variation in fGCm concentrations. In contrast, individual variation in glucocorticoid metabolites was best explained by sex, with males having higher fGCm concentrations than females. These analyses provide the first characterization of the glucocorticoid physiology of highland tuco-tucos and underscore the potential importance of intrinsic phenotypic factors (e.g., sex) in shaping glucocorticoid variation in free-living mammals. Copyright © 2022 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Shannon L O'Brien, Christian G Irian, George E Bentley, Eileen A Lacey. Sex, not social behavior, predicts fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations in a facultatively social rodent, the highland tuco-tuco (Ctenomys opimus). Hormones and behavior. 2022 May;141:105152

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PMID: 35286897

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