Social and ecological drivers of reproductive seasonality in geladas

Elizabeth Tinsley Johnson, Noah Snyder-Mackler, Amy Lu, Thore J. Bergman, Jacinta C. Beehner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Many nonseasonally breeding mammals demonstrate some degree of synchrony in births, which is generally associated with ecological factors that mediate fecundity. However, disruptive social events, such as alpha male replacements, also have the potential to affect the timing of female reproduction. Here, we examined reproductive seasonality in a wild population of geladas (Theropithecus gelada) living at high altitudes in an afro-alpine ecosystem in Ethiopia. Using 9 years of demographic data (2006 2014), we determined that, while females gave birth year-round, a seasonal peak in births coincided with peak green grass availability (their staple food source). This post-rainy season ecological peak" in births meant that estimated conceptions for these births occurred when temperatures were at their highest and mean female fecal glucocorticoid concentrations were at their lowest. In addition to this ecological birth peak, we also found a separate birth peak that occurred only for females in groups that had experienced a recent replacement of the dominant male (i.e., a takeover). Because new dominant males cause abortions in pregnant females and kill the infants of lactating females, takeovers effectively "reset" the reproductive cycles of females in the group. This "social birth peak" was distinct from the ecological peak and was associated with higher rates of cycling and conceptions overall and higher glucocorticoid levels immediately following a takeover as compared to females that did not experience a takeover. These data demonstrate that social factors (in this case, male takeovers) can contribute to population-level reproductive seasonality above and beyond group-level reproductive synchrony.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)574-588
Number of pages15
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 9 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • birth seasonality, counterstrategies to infanticide, female reproduction, male-mediated birth patterns, male takeover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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