Functional relationships between estradiol and paternal care in male red-bellied lemurs, Eulemur rubriventer

Stacey R. Tecot, Madalena Birr, Juliana Dixon, Jean Pierre Lahitsara, Dominique Razafindraibe, Soafaniry Razanajatovo, Alicia S. Arroyo, Aimé Victor Tombotiana, Jean Baptiste Velontsara, Andrea L. Baden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fathers contribute substantially to infant care, yet the mechanisms facilitating paternal bonding and interactions with infants are not as well understood as they are in mothers. Several hormonal changes occur as males transition into parenthood, first in response to a partner's pregnancy, and next in response to interacting with the newborn. These changes may prepare fathers for parenting and help facilitate and maintain paternal care. Experimental studies with monkeys and rodents suggest that paternal care requires elevated estradiol levels, which increase when a male's partner is pregnant and are higher in fathers than non-fathers, but its role in the expression of paternal behaviors throughout infant development is unknown. To assess estradiol's role in paternal care, we analyzed the relationship between paternal estradiol metabolites and 1) offspring age, and 2) paternal care behavior (holding, carrying, huddling, playing, grooming), in wild, red-bellied lemurs (Eulemur rubriventer). We collected 146 fecal samples and 1597 h of behavioral data on 10 adult males who had newborn infants during the study. Estradiol metabolites increased four-fold in expectant males, and in new fathers they fluctuated and gradually decreased with time. Infant age, not paternal behavior, best predicted hormone levels in new fathers. These results suggest that hormonal changes occur in expectant males with facultative paternal care, but they do not support the hypothesis that estradiol is directly associated with the day-to-day expression of paternal care. Future research should explore estradiol's role in facilitating behaviors, including infant-directed attention and responsiveness, or preparing fathers for infant care generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105324
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Allomaternal care
  • Estradiol
  • Infant care
  • Paternal care
  • Primate
  • Strepsirrhine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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