Non-invasive monitoring of endocrine status in laboratory primates: methods, guidelines and applications
During the past three decades, non-invasive methods for assessing physiological, in particular endocrine, status have revolutionized almost all areas of primatology, including behavioural ecology, reproductive biology, stress research, conservation and last but not least management of primates in captivity where the technology plays an integral role in assisting the husbandry, breeding and welfare of many species. Non-invasive endocrine methods make use of the fact that hormones circulating in blood are secreted into saliva or deposited in hair and are eliminated from the body via urinary and faecal excretion. The choice of which matrix to use for hormonal assessment depends on a range of factors, including the type of information required, the measurement techniques involved, species differences in hormone metabolism and route of excretion and the practicality of sample collection. However, although sample collection is usually relatively easy, analysing hormones from these non-invasively collected samples is not as easy as many people think, particularly not when dealing with a new species. In this respect, the importance of a careful validation of each technique is essential in order to generate meaningful and accurate results. This paper aims to provide an overview of the available non-invasive endocrine-based methodologies, their relative merits and their potential areas of application for assessing endocrine status in primates, with special reference to captive environments. In addition, general information is given about the most important aspects and caveats researchers have to be aware of when using these methodologies.