The reproductive status of nonbreeding group members in captive golden lion tamarin social groups

Jeffrey A. French, Betty J. Inglett, Theresa M. Dethlefs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Reproductive activity is limited to only one female in many species of callitrichid primates (marmosets and tamarins): daughters and subordinate females do not produce offspring. A suppression of ovulatory cyclicity is responsible for the lack of reproductive activity in three species of callitrichids studied to date. This study evaluated the endocrine status of golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) housed as daughters or sons in family groups and of individuals housed in isosexual peer groups. Daughters 17 months of age and older and a subordinate female had high levels of estrogen excretion. Mean levels of estrogen excretion in these females were similar to those of nonpregnant, breeding adult females (17.14 ± 6.82 versus 11.93 ± 6.33 μg/mg creatinine, respectively). Estrogen profiles were similar to those of breeding adult females, with sinusoidal cycles in estrogen excretion. Younger daughters in family groups (10 and 12 months old) showed markedly lower levels of estrogen excretion (0.84 ± 0.58 μg/mg creatinine). Estrogen profiles lacked the sinusoidal nature of cycles in older daughters and breeding females, and elevations in estrogen excretion occurred frequently and remained elevated for 1 or 2 days. Plasma testosterone levels in males varied widely, but mean concentrations did not differ among males housed in different social conditions. These results suggest that older daughters and subordinate females may be capable of expressing normal ovarian function in the presence of a breeding adult female. This finding may account for two unusual observations in the lion tamarin: the high level of female‐female aggression and the presence of groups in the wild with more than one actively breeding female.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-86
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1989


  • fertility status
  • reproductive suppression
  • subordination
  • urinary estrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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