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Transition to siblinghood causes a substantial and long-lasting increase in urinary cortisol levels in wild bonobos

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

In animals with slow ontogeny and long-term maternal investment, immatures are likely to experience the birth of a younger sibling before reaching maturity. In these species, the birth of a sibling marks a major event in an offspring's early life as the older siblings experience a decrease in maternal support. The transition to siblinghood (TTS) is often considered to be stressful for the older offspring, but physiological evidence is lacking. To explore the TTS in wild bonobos, we investigated physiological changes in urinary cortisol (stress response), neopterin (cell-mediated immunity), and total triiodothyronine (T3, metabolic rate), as well as changes in behaviors that reflect the mother-offspring relationship. Following a sibling's birth, urinary cortisol levels of the older offspring increased fivefold, independent of their age, and remained elevated for 7 months. The cortisol level increase was associated with declining neopterin levels; however, T3 levels and behavioral measures did not change. Our results indicate that the TTS is accompanied by elevated cortisol levels and that this change does not coincide with nutritional weaning and attainment of physical independence. Our results suggest that bonobos and humans experience TTS in similar ways and that this developmental event may have emerged in the last common ancestor.
Journal: ELIFE
Volume: 11
Publication year:2022
Keywords:Animals, Hydrocortisone/urine, Neopterin, Pan paniscus, Siblings, Triiodothyronine