High rates of pregnancy loss by subordinates leads to high reproductive skew in wild golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia)

Ma Linda D. Henry, Sarah J. Hankerson, Jennifer M. Siani, Jeffrey A. French, James M. Dietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Across taxa, cooperative breeding has been associated with high reproductive skew. Cooperatively breeding golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) were long thought to have a monogynous mating system in which reproduction was limited to a single dominant female. Subordinates with few reproductive opportunities delayed dispersal and remained in the natal group to provide alloparental care to siblings, thus allowing dominant reproductive females to meet the energetic needs associated with high rates of reproduction and successful infant rearing. The goal of this study was to re-assess monogyny in wild golden lion tamarin groups based upon pregnancy diagnoses that used non-invasive enzyme immunoassay for progesterone and cortisol, combined with weekly data on individual weight gain, bi-annual physical examinations noting pregnancy and lactation status and daily behavioral observations. We established quantitative and qualitative criteria to detect and determine the timing of pregnancies that did not result in the birth of infants. Pregnancy polygyny occurred in 83% of golden lion tamarin groups studied. The loss of 64% of subordinate pregnancies compared to only 15% by dominant females limited reproductive success mainly to dominant females, thus maintaining high reproductive skew in female golden lion tamarins. Pregnancy loss by subordinate adults did not appear to result from dominant interference in subordinate hormonal mechanisms, but more likely resulted from subordinate abandonment of newborn infants to mitigate dominant aggression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)675-683
Number of pages9
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Cooperative breeding
  • Cortisol
  • Dominant control
  • Leontopithecus rosalia
  • Polygyny
  • Pregnancy loss
  • Progesterone
  • Reproductive skew
  • Reproductive suppression
  • Subordination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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