Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since 2015
Chronically elevated stress hormone levels can occur from repeated exposure to stressors, and can result in immuno-suppression, poor health and reduced longevity in humans and other social mammals. Social coping strategies can mitigate the deleterious effects of exposure, although little is known about the proximate mechanisms underlying such strategies, nor the impact of specific strategies on health. Two key coping strategies are often examined but rarely, if ever, contrasted in the same study, thus the relative impact of each on health and longevity is unclear. Social integration, where individuals maintain more central positions in a group, theoretically exposes individuals to stressors less frequently. In contrast, the social buffering effect of bond partners likely does not reduce the rate of exposure to stressors but might rather reduce the impact of each exposure. Whilst both should reduce the likelihood of chronic elevation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity, social buffering should in addition trigger oxytocin release, which has a regulatory effect on the HPA axis. Here, we will specifically contrast how usage of these two coping strategies over time relates to hormone and health measures, specifically measuring a non-specific immune-marker and virus load , in three communities of wild chimpanzees, in Taï National Park, Ivory Coast. This study allows us to investigate the relationship between different parameters of sociality and health including giving insights into the underlying mechanisms. These insights are likely to have broad applicability across social mammals, including for humans, particularly in understanding the impact of maintaining different social patterns on health.