Group movement leadership is associated with higher risks for those in the front. Leaders are the first to explore new areas and may be exposed to predation. Individual differences in risk-taking behavior may be related to hormonal differences. In challenging circumstances, such as risk-taking leadership that may pose a cost to the leader, cortisol is secreted both to increase the likelihood of survival by restoring homeostasis, and to mediate cooperative behavior. Testosterone too has a well-established role in risk-taking behavior, and the dual-hormone hypothesis posits that the interaction of testosterone and cortisol can predict social behavior. Based on the dual-hormone hypothesis, we investigated here whether the interaction between testosterone and cortisol can predict risk-taking leadership behavior in wild rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis). We used proximity loggers, observations, and playback trials to characterize hyrax leaders in three different leadership contexts that varied in their risk levels. In support of the dual-hormone hypothesis, we found that cortisol and testosterone interactions predict leadership that involves risk. Across different circumstances that involved low or high levels of risk, testosterone was positively related to leadership, but only in individuals (both males and females) with low levels of cortisol. We also found an interaction between these hormone levels and age at the low-risk scenarios. We suggest that the close social interactions and affiliative behavior among hyrax females within small egalitarian groups may make female leadership less risky, and therefore less stressful, and allow female leaders to influence group activities.
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