Olfactory attractants and parity affect prenatal androgens and territoriality of coyote breeding pairs

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Physiology and Behavior





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Hormones are fundamental mediators of personality traits intimately linked with reproductive success. Hence, alterations to endocrine factors may dramatically affect individual behavior that has subsequent fitness consequences. Yet it is unclear how hormonal or behavioral traits change with environmental stressors or over multiple reproductive opportunities, particularly for biparental fauna. To simulate an environmental stressor, we exposed captive coyote (Canis latrans) pairs to novel coyote odor attractants (i.e. commercial scent lures) mid-gestation to influence territorial behaviors, fecal glucocorticoid (FGMs) and fecal androgen metabolites (FAMs). In addition, we observed coyote pairs as first-time and experienced breeders to assess the influence of parity on our measures. Treatment pairs received the odors four times over a 20-day period, while control pairs received water. Odor-treated pairs scent-marked (e.g. urinated, ground scratched) and investigated odors more frequently than control pairs, and had higher FAMs when odors were provided. Pairs had higher FAMs as first-time versus experienced breeders, indicating that parity also affected androgen production during gestation. Moreover, repeatability in scent-marking behaviors corresponded with FGMs and FAMs, implying that coyote territoriality during gestation is underpinned by individually-specific hormone profiles. Our results suggest coyote androgens during gestation are sensitive to conspecific olfactory stimuli and prior breeding experience. Consequently, fluctuations in social or other environmental stimuli as well as increasing parity may acutely affect coyote traits essential to reproductive success.