Repeatability of endocrine traits and dominance rank in female guinea pigs

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Taylor Rystrom, Romy C. Prawitt, S. Helene Richter, Norbert Sachser, Sylvia Kaiser


Glucocorticoids (e.g. cortisol) are associated with variation in social behavior, and previous studies have linked baseline as well as challenge-induced glucocorticoid concentrations to dominance status. It is known that cortisol response to an acute challenge is repeatable and correlates to social behavior in males of many mammal species. However, it is unclear whether these patterns are also consistent for females. The aim of this study was to investigate whether baseline and response cortisol concentrations are repeatable in female guinea pigs (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) and whether dominance rank is stable and correlated to baseline cortisol concentration and/or cortisol responsiveness.

Our results show that cortisol responsiveness (after 1 h: R = 0.635, 95% CI = 0.229, 0.927; after 2 h: R = 0.764, 95% CI = 0.433, 0.951) and dominance rank (R = 0.709, 95% CI = 0.316, 0.935) of females were significantly repeatable after six weeks but not correlated. Baseline cortisol was not repeatable (R = 0, 95% CI = 0, 0.690) and also did not correlate to dominance rank. Furthermore, the difference in repeatability estimates of baseline and response values was due to high within-individual variance of baseline cortisol concentration; the amount of between-individual variance was similar for baseline cortisol and the two measures of cortisol responsiveness.

Females occupying different dominance ranks did not have long-term differences in cortisol concentrations, and cortisol responsiveness does not seem to be significantly involved in the maintenance of dominance rank. Overall, this study reveals the remarkable stability of cortisol responsiveness and dominance rank in a female rodent, and it remains an open question whether the magnitude of cortisol responsiveness is adaptive in social contexts for females.



Behavior and Ethology, Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Life Sciences, Physiology


endocrine phenotype, glucocorticoids, individual variation, rodent, social environment, social rank, stress reactivity, variance decomposition


Published: 2021-03-11 11:04

Last Updated: 2021-06-21 19:02

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