In utero accumulated steroids predict neonate anti-predator response in a wild mammal

Bawan Amin*, Domhnall J. Jennings, Adam F. Smith, Matthew Quinn, Srivats Chari, Amy Haigh, Devorah Matas, Lee Koren, Simone Ciuti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

1. Behavioural variation at the individual level has been shown to play an important role in animal ecology and evolution. Whereas most studies have focused on subadult or adult subjects, neonates have been relatively neglected, despite studies showing that neonates can exhibit consistent inter-individual differences during early developmental stages.
2. Steroid hormones, including glucocorticoids (e.g., cortisol) and androgens (e.g., testosterone), play a crucial role in foetal development and maturation and could therefore drive neonate behaviour, although this relationship is poorly understood in wild animal populations.
3. This study addresses these knowledge gaps by investigating the association between neonate fallow deer (Dama dama) fawn inter-individual variability in behavioural response to human handling and hair cortisol and testosterone levels.
4. We found strong evidence that individual neonates display repeatable differences in the way they cope with a risky situation during their first days of life, and showed how these differences are linked to cortisol and testosterone levels accumulated in utero. We showed that, when both steroids are included in the same model, neonates with high cortisol and low testosterone levels coped in a more proactive way with human handling (higher heart rate during handling, shorter latency to leave when released) compared to those with low cortisol and high testosterone levels (lower heart rate and longer latency to leave). These results provide novel insights into the proximate mechanism leading to neonate inter-individual variation in a wild population of large mammals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFunctional Ecology
Early online date24 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 24 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • animal personality
  • pace-of-life
  • fallow deer
  • temperament
  • cortisol
  • testosterone
  • hair-testing
  • coping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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