Age, seasonality, and correlates of aggression in female Apennine chamois

  • Niccolò Fattorini
  • Sandro LovariEmail author
  • Claudia Brunetti
  • Carolina Baruzzi
  • Antonella Cotza
  • Elisabetta Macchi
  • Maria Chiara Pagliarella
  • Francesco Ferretti
Original Article


Intrinsic and environmental stressors, such as age and seasonality, may influence social behavior and endocrine levels in gregarious foragers, but little is known about how season and age affect both behavioral and physiological responses. We evaluated seasonal/age variation of aggression and vigilance, and seasonal/age variation of endocrine levels (fecal cortisol and testosterone metabolites), in a gregarious herbivore, the Apennine chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata. We examined a period of decreasing resource abundance and maternal care from July to October, a key period for nursing, weaning, and early growth of offspring. Aggression rate, vigilance, and cortisol levels decreased throughout July–October, while aggression intensity showed the reverse. Aggression intensity peaked when chamois were on the most nutritious vegetation patches. Dominance increased with age, and prime-aged females (4–8 years old) showed higher cortisol and testosterone levels and were involved in aggressive interactions more often than subadult or older females. Our findings suggest that, in early summer, when nursing effort is the greatest, selection of nutritious food patches leads to frequent encounters between female chamois, enhancing aggression rate, vigilance, and endogenous stress response. The progressive decrease in food abundance throughout July–October triggers competition for scarce resources and increased intensity of aggression. Most likely, the energetic demands of lactation and offspring guarding were key determinants of behavioral and physiological stress of female chamois. Our results suggest a multi-factorial compromise between reproductive state and stress levels, in a group-living species.

Significance statement

The cost of motherhood: in female chamois, aggression, vigilance, and stress peak during lactation, despite abundant food resources. In females, aggression and dominance increase with age. A multi-factorial compromise between reproductive stage and stress may be necessary in a group-living animal. We suggest that motherhood is a stressful event for female chamois.


Aggression Vigilance Stress Cortisol Testosterone Social dominance 



We are indebted to D. Febbo, G. Rossi, and A. Carrara for their continuous support and to the ALMNP staff for logistic support. D. Scornavacca, S. Bernardini, and V. Pietrocini helped with data collection in 2014 and N. Pallari in 2015. We are grateful to L. Bartoš, J. Herrero, V.A. Viblanc, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on early drafts of this manuscript. D.M. Shackleton and M. Festa-Bianchet kindly edited our English and made comments on our last draft.

Authors’ contributions

SL and FF planned this study; NF participated in study planning, conducted most data collection and data analyses, wrote the first draft, and participated in writing all drafts; FF participated in data collection and analyses, as well as in writing up all drafts. SL supervised all stage of this study and participated in writing up all drafts; CB participated in data collection and analyses; CB and AC participated in data collection; EM carried out hormone assays and wrote the relevant text; MCP provided statistical advice and participated in data analyses.


Financial support was provided by the Italian Ministry of University and Research (PRIN project no. 2010P7LFW4).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

We received the appropriate permissions for conducting the study in Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park from the responsible authorities. All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the use of animals were followed. Ethical approval from ethics committee for involving animals was not required.

Supplementary material

265_2018_2584_MOESM1_ESM.doc (122 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 122 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niccolò Fattorini
    • 1
  • Sandro Lovari
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author return OK on get
  • Claudia Brunetti
    • 1
  • Carolina Baruzzi
    • 1
  • Antonella Cotza
    • 1
  • Elisabetta Macchi
    • 3
  • Maria Chiara Pagliarella
    • 4
  • Francesco Ferretti
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Life SciencesUniversity of SienaSienaItaly
  2. 2.Maremma Natural History MuseumGrossetoItaly
  3. 3.Department of Veterinary SciencesUniversity of TorinoGrugliasco (TO)Italy
  4. 4.Department of Bioscience and TerritoryUniversity of MoliseCampobassoItaly

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