Kay E. Holekamp

Scholar: 1994

Awarded Institution
Michigan State University
Department of Zoology


Research Interests

Neuroendocrine mechanisms mediating intergroup transfer in mammals

I am broadly interested in mammalian behavioral development and its physiological substrates. I am currently pursuing two lines of research investigating how social, ecological, and endocrine variables interact during an individual's early development to influence its subsequent behavior and its reproductive success as an adult. First, I am conducting a long-term field study of the emergence of sexually dimorphic patterns of social dominance and aggressive behavior in free-living spotted hyenas in kenya. Young female hyenas are exposed to a peculiar suite of hormonal influences that masculinize their genital morphology to an extreme degree. females also exhibit patterns of aggressive and other rank-related behaviors that are reversed from normal mammalian sex roles. For example, among adult hyenas, females are socially dominant to males. The unusual role-reversed social behaviors characteristic of this species make the spotted hyena an exciting subject for testing hypotheses about the causal factors promoting emergence of behavioral sex differences. Because hyena society is rigidly structured by linear, hierarchical dominance relationships, this species is also ideal for evaluating social rank effects on behavior and reproduction.

My second line of research addresses questions about the causes and consequences of animal movements, with particular attention to natal dispersal movements by young male mammals. I am curious about the physiological and ecological variables that interact to influence the occurrene in space and time of mammalian exploratory dispersal behaviors. I am also interested in the long-term fitness consequences of dispersal, and in the short-term physiological and social consequences of dispersal for emigrants. Using both field and laboratory approaches, I am investigating these problems in rodents and carnivores.