On the sunny side of (new) life

American Journal of Primatology

Abstract

To produce offspring early in life is energetically demanding and depends greatly on environmental conditions. In female primates, age at first reproduction (AFR) has been associated with social parameters (e.g., population density and social rank), food availability and meteorological conditions (e.g., photoperiod, rainfall patterns, and temperature). Regarding the latter, less attention has been given to the influence of sunshine. In nonhuman primates, including the northern‐most distributed Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), sunbathing is an effective thermoregulatory strategy to maintain sufficient energy intake during harsh winter months. Furthermore, the energetic value of sunshine and its role in the synthesis of essential vitamins important for sexual development and overall fertility is well investigated using human and animal models. In the present study, we hypothesized that female's AFR is influenced by the amount of sunshine in a semi‐free‐ranging, provisioned a group of Japanese macaques. To test this, we gathered data on sunshine duration in the year females theoretically experienced the onset of puberty. This phase of the female life cycle is particularly prone to the effects of environmental conditions. In addition to the investigation of sunshine duration and other meteorological conditions (i.e., rainfall and temperature) we controlled for social parameters (i.e., group size and sex ratio) as potential covariates. We found a clear effect of sunshine duration on female AFR: Females who entered puberty in years with more sunshine reproduced for the first time at significantly younger ages than females who experienced less sunshine during this specific period of their development. Possible mechanisms for how the sunshine influences sexual maturation in Japanese macaques are discussed.

Pflüger, L., Pink, K. E., Böck, A., Huffmaster, M. A., & Wallner, B. (2019). On the sunny side of (new) life: Effect of sunshine duration on age at first reproduction in Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata). American Journal of Primatology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.23019