Maintaining a balanced energy budget is important for survival and reproduction, but measuring energy balance in wild animals has been fraught with difficulties. Female mountain gorillas are interesting subjects to examine environmental correlates of energy balance because their diet is primarily herbaceous vegetation, their food supply shows little seasonal variation and is abundant, yet they live in cooler, high-altitude habitats that may bring about energetic challenges. Social and reproductive parameters may also influence energy balance. Urinary C-peptide (UCP) has emerged as a valuable non-invasive biomarker of energy balance in primates. Here we use this method to investigate factors influencing energy balance in mountain gorillas of the Virunga Volcanoes, Rwanda. We examined a range of socioecological variables on energy balance in adult females in three groups monitored by the Karisoke Research Center over nine months. Three variables had significant effects on UCP levels: habitat (highest levels in the bamboo zone), season (highest levels in November during peak of the bamboo shoot availability) and day time (gradually increasing from early morning to early afternoon). There was no significant effect of reproductive state and dominance rank. Our study indicates that even in species that inhabit an area with a seemingly steady food supply, ecological variability can have pronounced effects on female energy balance.
The management of captive animals has been improved by the establishment of positive reinforcement training as a tool to facilitate interactions between caretakers and animals. In great apes, positive reinforcement training has also been used to train individuals to participate in simple medical procedures to monitor physical health. One aim of positive reinforcement training is to establish a relaxed atmosphere for situations that, without training, might be very stressful. This is especially true for simple medical procedures that can require animals to engage in behaviours that are unusual or use unfamiliar medical devices that can be upsetting. Therefore, one cannot exclude the possibility that the training itself is a source of stress. In this study, we explored the effects of medical positive reinforcement training on salivary cortisol in two groups of captive ape species, orangutans and bonobos, which were familiar to this procedure. Furthermore, we successfully biologically validated the salivary cortisol assay, which had already been validated for bonobos, for orangutans. For the biological validation, we found that cortisol levels in orangutan saliva collected during baseline conditions were lower than in samples collected during three periods that were potentially stressful for the animals. However, we did not find significant changes in salivary cortisol during medical positive reinforcement training for either bonobos or orangutans. Therefore, for bonobos and orangutans with previous exposure to medical PRT, the procedure is not stressful. Thus, medical PRT provides a helpful tool for the captive management of the two species.
We present information on age related changes of thyroid hormone levels in bonobos (N = 96) and chimpanzees (N = 100) ranging between one and 56 years of age. Fresh urine samples were used for hormone measurements with a commercial competitive total triiodothyronine (T3) ELISA. In both species, immature individuals had higher TT3 levels than adults and there was a marked decrease in TT3 levels between age classes. The two species differed in terms of the timing of TT3 level changes, with chimpanzees experiencing a significant decline in TT3 levels after 10 years of age and bonobos after 20 years of age. The decline of TT3 in chimpanzees appears to coincide with the time when somatic growth terminates while TT3 values in bonobos decrease much later. This temporal asymmetry in urinary thyroid hormone levels indicates heterochrony in the ontogenetic changes of the two sister species and developmental delay in bonobos. The prolongation of high TT3 levels in bonobos, which is characteristic of immatures of both Pan species may affect the behavior of bonobos; namely, the low intensity of aggression they display. Given that developmental studies are often based on post-mortem analyses of skeletons, measures of urinary thyroid hormones offer a non-invasive tool for exploring ontogenetic changes in living wild and captive hominoids.
Salivary alpha amylase (sAA) is the most abundant enzyme in saliva. Studies in humans found variation in enzymatic activity of sAA across populations that could be linked to the copy number of loci for salivary amylase (AMY1), which was seen as an adaptive response to the intake of dietary starch. In addition to diet dependent variation, differences in sAA activity have been related to social stress. In a previous study, we found evidence for stress-induced variation in sAA activity in the bonobos, a hominoid primate that is closely related to humans. In this study, we explored patterns of variation in sAA activity in bonobos and three other hominoid primates, chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan to (a) examine if within-species differences in sAA activity found in bonobos are characteristic for hominoids and (b) assess the extent of variation in sAA activity between different species. The results revealed species-differences in sAA activity with gorillas and orangutans having higher basal sAA activity when compared to Pan. To assess the impact of stress, sAA values were related to cortisol levels measured in the same saliva samples. Gorillas and orangutans had low salivary cortisol concentrations and the highest cortisol concentration was found in samples from male bonobos, the group that also showed the highest sAA activity. Considering published information, the differences in sAA activity correspond with differences in AMY1 copy numbers and match with general features of natural diet. Studies on sAA activity have the potential to complement molecular studies and may contribute to research on feeding ecology and nutrition.
Salivary alpha-Amylase (sAA) is a starch digesting enzyme. In addition to its function in the context of nutrition, sAA has also turned out to be useful for monitoring sympathetic nervous system activity. Recent studies on humans have found a relationship between intra-individual changes in sAA activity and physical and psychological stress. In studies on primates and other vertebrates, non-invasive monitoring of short-term stress responses is usually based on measurements of cortisol levels, which are indicative of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity. The few studies that have used both cortisol levels and sAA activity indicate that these two markers may respond differently and independently to different types of stress such that variation in the degree of the activation of different stress response systems might reflect alternative coping mechanisms or individual traits. Here, we present the first data on intra- and inter-individual variation of sAA activity in captive bonobos and compare the results with information from other ape species and humans. Our results indicate that sAA activity in the bonobo samples was significantly lower than in the human samples but within the range of other great ape species. In addition, sAA activity was significantly higher in samples collected at times when subjects had been exposed to stressors (judged by changes in behavioral patterns and cortisol levels) than in samples collected at other times. Our results indicate that bonobos possess functioning sAA and, as in other species, sAA activity is influenced by autonomic nervous system activity. Monitoring sAA activity could therefore be a useful tool for evaluating stress in bonobos.
This study documents the cortisol levels in the saliva of a bonobo group, especially that of a bonobo female which had given birth for the first time. During a long study in Zoological Garden Frankfurt, Germany, a bonobo baby was born on 3 August 2007. Due to the fission-fusion keeping system employed, the bonobos were divided into two groups on this day. Their behavior was observed regularly and saliva was also collected. The bonobos had been trained to chew cotton wool and to give back the samples. The cortisol response was tested twice a day before birth and three times on the day of parturition. Before birth, no observable indication behavior was seen, but an increase in the cortisol concentration of the expectant mother was found. Parturition occurred at 8 pm. The next morning, the group with the newborn was visibly more active, which correlated with the fact that their cortisol levels were increased in the morning in comparison to the second group. During the day, cortisol decreased in both groups, only it was higher throughout the day in the new mother. In the evening, the two groups showed nearly the same cortisol levels. These data indicate that there is indeed a relation between observable behavior and the cortisol level in bonobo saliva. Therefore, the cortisol level can be regarded as a suitable indicator for verifying behavioral events.
Adrenarche is characterized by the onset of adrenal secretions of increasing amounts of dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S). While the function of adrenarche remains a matter of speculation, evidence suggests that the morphological and physiological changes related to it are restricted to humans and closely related primates. Within the primate order, adrenarche has been described only in humans and chimpanzees, but bonobos, the sister species of chimpanzees, have not yet been studied regarding the early ontogenetic changes such as adrenarche. While bonobos and chimpanzees share many morphological and behavioral characteristics, they differ in a number of behavioral traits, and there is a growing interest in terms of the physiological differences that can be linked to species-specific patterns of social behavior. In this study, we measured urinary DHEA-S levels to determine whether bonobos experience physiological changes that are indicative of adrenarche. We measured DHEA-S in urine using ELISA and analyzed its levels in the samples from 53 bonobos aged 1-18 years. Our results show that bonobos experience an increase in DHEA-S levels after 5 years of age, which is comparable with the patterns observed in humans and chimpanzees. This indicates that bonobos do undergo adrenarche and that the timing of onset is similar to that of the two Pan species. The extraction procedures described in this report demonstrate the use of urine for monitoring ontogenetic changes in DHEA-S excretion. If applicable to other species, the technique would facilitate more research on the evolutionary origin of adrenarche and other developmental processes.
Related JoVE Video
Journal of Visualized Experiments
What is Visualize?
JoVE Visualize is a tool created to match the last 5 years of PubMed publications to methods in JoVE's video library.
How does it work?
We use abstracts found on PubMed and match them to JoVE videos to create a list of 10 to 30 related methods videos.
Video X seems to be unrelated to Abstract Y...
In developing our video relationships, we compare around 5 million PubMed articles to our library of over 4,500 methods videos. In some cases the language used in the PubMed abstracts makes matching that content to a JoVE video difficult. In other cases, there happens not to be any content in our video library that is relevant to the topic of a given abstract. In these cases, our algorithms are trying their best to display videos with relevant content, which can sometimes result in matched videos with only a slight relation.