Shared community effects and the non-genetic maternal environment shape cortisol levels in wild chimpanzees



Tkaczynski PJ, Mafessoni F, Girard-Buttoz C, Samuni L, Ackermann CY, Fedurek P, Gomes C, Hobaiter C, Löhrich T, Manin V, Preis A, Valé PD, Wessling EG, Wittiger L & Zommers Z (2023) Shared community effects and the non-genetic maternal environment shape cortisol levels in wild chimpanzees. Communications Biology, 6, Art. No.: 565.

Mechanisms of inheritance remain poorly defined for many fitness-mediating traits, especially in long-lived animals with protracted development. Using 6,123 urinary samples from 170 wild chimpanzees, we examined the contributions of genetics, non-genetic maternal effects, and shared community effects on variation in cortisol levels, an established predictor of survival in long-lived primates. Despite evidence for consistent individual variation in cortisol levels across years, between-group effects were more influential and made an overwhelming contribution to variation in this trait. Focusing on within-group variation, non-genetic maternal effects accounted for 8% of the individual differences in average cortisol levels, significantly more than that attributable to genetic factors, which was indistinguishable from zero. These maternal effects are consistent with a primary role of a shared environment in shaping physiology. For chimpanzees, and perhaps other species with long life histories, community and maternal effects appear more relevant than genetic inheritance in shaping key physiological traits.

General Agricultural and Biological Sciences; General Biochemistry; Genetics and Molecular Biology; Medicine (miscellaneous);

Additional co-authors: Klaus Zuberbuehler, Linda Vigilant, Tobias Deschner, Roman M. Wittig & Catherine Crockford

Communications Biology: Volume 6

FundersEuropean Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date31/12/2023
Publication date online26/05/2023
Date accepted by journal03/05/2023
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media LLC

People (1)


Dr Pawel Fedurek

Dr Pawel Fedurek

Lecturer in Psychology, Psychology