The immunocompetence handicap hypothesis posits that androgens in males can be a ‘double-edged sword’, actively promoting reproductive success, while also negatively impacting health. Because there can be both substantial androgen concentrations in females and significant androgenic variation among them, particularly in species portraying female social dominance over males or intense female–female competition, androgens might also play a role in mediating female health and fitness. We examined this hypothesis in the meerkat (Suricata suricatta), a cooperatively breeding, social carnivoran characterized by aggressively mediated female social dominance and extreme rank-related reproductive skew. Dominant females also have greater androgen concentrations and harbour greater parasite loads than their subordinate counterparts, but the relationship between concurrent androgen concentrations and parasite burdens is unknown. We found that a female's faecal androgen concentrations reliably predicted her concurrent state of endoparasitism irrespective of her social status: parasite species richness and infection by Spirurida nematodes, Oxynema suricattae, Pseudandrya suricattae and coccidia were greater with greater androgen concentrations. Based on gastrointestinal parasite burdens, females appear to experience the same trade-off in the costs and benefits of raised androgens as do the males of many species. This trade-off presumably represents a health cost of sexual selection operating in females.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3494040.
- Received September 1, 2016.
- Accepted September 27, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.