European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 235–241 | Cite as

Effects of season and social interaction on fecal testosterone metabolites in wild male giant pandas: implications for energetics and mating strategies

  • Yong-Gang Nie
  • Ze-Jun Zhang
  • Ronald R. Swaisgood
  • Fu-Wei Wei
Original Paper


In the first-ever study of reproductive endocrinology in wild male giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), we provide new insights into the reproductive ecology of the species. We tracked and observed pandas in Foping Nature Reserve of the Qinling Mountains for 3 years, collecting fecal samples for testosterone metabolite analysis and data on reproductive activity. Males encountered multiple potential mates and competed for reproductive access to females. Male testosterone metabolites increased in February, peaked in March and April, and fell back to baseline after the mating season. However, males did not maintain a high testosterone level throughout the mating season. Male testosterone instead peaked during encounters with potential mates and declined between encounters. These results indicate that testicular activity is typically dormant until mobilized by interactions with females and potentially by interactions with male competitors. This suggests that male pandas may be energetically constrained, elevating testosterone levels only when necessary to meet the demands of intrasexual competition and courtship and fertilization of females. Maintaining a high testosterone level is metabolically expensive and male pandas enter the mating season during a period of low food availability. If this hypothesis is correct, male panda body condition may be an important determinant of reproductive outcome, and anthropogenic activities that diminish foraging resources may have significant impacts on the mating ecology of the species, affecting its conservation.


Giant panda Fecal testosterone levels Reproductive physiology Energetics Mating strategies 



We acknowledge the support of Foping National Nature Reserve and the field staff, including X. Wang, Q. He, and A. Zhang. We would like to thank Ben Charlton and Russ Van Horn for their comments on this manuscript. We also thank G. Wang for his assistance in sample collection in the field. This work was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30830020) and San Diego Zoo Global.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yong-Gang Nie
    • 1
  • Ze-Jun Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ronald R. Swaisgood
    • 3
  • Fu-Wei Wei
    • 1
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, The Chinese Academy of SciencesChaoyangChina
  2. 2.Institute of Rare Animals and PlantsChina West Normal UniversityNanchongChina
  3. 3.San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation ResearchSan DiegoUSA

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