Estimation of energetic condition in wild baboons using fecal thyroid hormone determination.
Understanding how environmental and social factors affect reproduction through variation in energetic condition remains understudied in wild animals, in large part because accurately and repeatedly measuring energetic condition in the wild is a challenge. Thyroid hormones (THs), such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), have a key role in mitigating metabolic responses to energy intake and expenditure, and therefore are considered important biomarkers of an animal's energetic condition. Recent method development has shown that T3 and T4 metabolites can be measured in feces, but studies measuring THs in wild populations remain rare. Here we measured fecal T3 metabolites (mT3) in baboons, and tested whether the conditions of collection and storage used for steroid hormones could also be used for mT3; we focused on mT3 as it is the biologically active form of TH and because fecal T4 metabolites (mT4) were below detection levels in our samples. We also tested if mT3 could be determined in freeze-dried samples stored for long periods of time, and if these concentrations reflected expected biological variations across seasons and reproductive states. Our results show that mT3 can be measured with accuracy and precision in baboon feces. The conditions of collection and storage we use for steroid hormones are appropriate for mT3 determination. In addition, mT3 concentrations can be determined in samples stored at -20 °C for up to 9 years, and are not predicted by the amount of time in storage. As expected, wild female baboons have lower mT3 concentrations during the dry season. Interestingly, mT3 concentrations are lower in pregnant and lactating females, possibly reflecting an energy sparing mechanism. Retroactive determination of mT3 concentration in stored, freeze-dried feces opens the door to novel studies on the role of energetic condition on fitness in wild animals.
Gesquiere, LR; Pugh, M; Alberts, SC; Markham, AC
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