Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany; Taï Chimpanzee Project, Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques, BP 1303, Abidjan 01, Côte d'Ivoire. Electronic address: [Email]
The oxytocinergic system is involved in a range of functions, from attachment and social bonding to aggression and stress responses. Whether oxytocin is released in response to a stressor, shows contradictory results across species and potential contexts-dependent differences. To avoid unintended contextual changes due to experimental procedures, we tested this question non-invasively in wild chimpanzees in an ecologically valid context. We collected endogenous hormonal measures during exposure to a known natural stressor, intergroup conflict. Specifically, we tested for potential synchronous activation patterns between urinary oxytocin and cortisol in male and female chimpanzees during stressor exposure. Oxytocinergic system reactivity during chimpanzee intergroup conflict has already been established in this study population. Thus, we first investigated urinary cortisol levels during border patrol and intergroup encounter days, in comparison to another potential stressor, hunting, and control days. We found higher urinary cortisol levels during intergroup encounter days compared with control and hunting days. We then compared secretion patterns of oxytocin and cortisol in relation to increased levels of out-group contact and hostility ('out-group risk') during intergroup conflict. We found that increased 'out-group risk' was associated with higher cortisol levels, especially when involving direct visual or physical contact with rival groups. Although urinary oxytocin levels were high across intergroup conflict contexts, increasing levels of out-group risk showed no significant variation. Taken together, results indicate independent secretion of oxytocin and cortisol during chimpanzee intergroup conflict, emphasizing that stressor exposure in this context is not the main trigger of oxytocin secretion.