, Volume 56, Issue 4, pp 365–373 | Cite as

Variation in vervet (Chlorocebus aethiops) hair cortisol concentrations reflects ecological disturbance by humans

  • Nicolaas H. FourieEmail author
  • Trudy R. Turner
  • Janine L. Brown
  • James D. Pampush
  • Joseph G. Lorenz
  • Robin M. Bernstein
Original Article


Vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) often live in close proximity to humans. Vervets are known to raid crops, homes and gardens in suburban areas leading to human–vervet conflict. In general, primate groups with access to human foods experience increased population densities and intra-group aggression. This suggests high stress loads for vervets living in environments with high levels of human habitat disturbance and close proximity to humans. We tested the hypothesis that populations characterized by high levels of human impact are more physiologically stressed than low human impact populations, and that this increased stress would be reflected in higher concentrations of hair cortisol. We predicted that because females would be less likely to engage in high risk foraging activities, and hence keep more distance from humans than males, their hair cortisol levels should be lower than those in males. We quantified cortisol in the hair of wild caught individuals from populations that experienced different degrees of human habitat disturbance and differences in access to human food. We found that males in high human impact groups had significantly higher hair cortisol concentrations than those in low human impact groups, although this difference was not observed in female vervets. Human impacts on vervet behavioral ecology appear to be a significant source of stress for male animals in particular.


Hair Cortisol Stress Vervets Human impact Human food 



We thank all those who have taken part in sample and data collection over the course of 2002–2009. We are also indebted to the Environmental Affairs offices in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Gauteng, Free State and the Eastern Cape Provinces of South Africa for their assistance. We acknowledge the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute’s Endocrinology Laboratory, in particular Nicole Presley and Sarah Putman for their friendly assistance and advice. Analyses were carried out with support from the Lewis Cotlow Fund (2008 and 2010) and the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship award (NSF IGERT—Award ID: 0801634). Sampling was supported by NSF grant BCS0938969.

Supplementary material

10329_2015_486_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 23 kb)


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer Japan (outside the USA) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicolaas H. Fourie
    • 1
    Email author
  • Trudy R. Turner
    • 2
    • 3
  • Janine L. Brown
    • 4
  • James D. Pampush
    • 5
  • Joseph G. Lorenz
    • 6
  • Robin M. Bernstein
    • 7
  1. 1.Biobehavioral Branch, Division of Intramural ResearchNational Institute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeneticsUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa
  4. 4.Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Center for Species SurvivalFront RoyalUSA
  5. 5.Department of Evolutionary AnthropologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  6. 6.Department of Anthropology and Museum StudiesCentral Washington UniversityEllensburgUSA
  7. 7.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

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