Do boars compensate for hunting with higher reproductive hormones?

Achiad Davidson, Dan Malkinson, Anat Schonblum, Lee Koren, Uri Shanas

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The predation-stress hypothesis has been proposed as a general mechanism to explain the negative effect of predation risk on reproduction, through a chronic activation of the stress response. However, in some cases, stress appears to augment the reproductive potential of mammals. Wild boar (Sus scrofa) populations are on a rise worldwide, despite the high hunting pressure that they are exposed to. This hunting pressure instigates, among other effects, earlier sexual maturity in juvenile females, leading to the shortening of wild boars’ generation time. The mechanism that underlies this earlier sexual maturity under high hunting pressure has not been examined to date. To explore the physiological effects that hunting has on the reproductive system and whether the stress response is involved, we examined steroid hormone levels in the hair of female wild boars in northern Israel, comparing populations exposed to high and low hunting pressure. Furthermore, we compared steroid levels in the hair of female wild boars that were roaming alone or as a part of a group. We found no hormonal signs of stress in the hunted boars. Cortisol levels were low in both the high and low hunting-pressure groups. Yet, progesterone levels were higher in females that were exposed to high hunting pressure. Females roaming in a group also had higher progesterone levels compared to females that were alone, with no distinguishable differences in cortisol levels. These elevations in reproductive hormones that were associated with hunting may lead to a higher reproductive potential in female wild boars. They further show that high hunting pressure does not necessarily lead to chronic stress that impairs the reproductive potential of female wild boars. This data suggests that a reproductive hormonal response may be one of the factors leading to the rapid wild boars population growth worldwide, despite the high hunting pressure.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA1373
JournalConservation Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

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