Ash, H., Smith, T. E., Knight, S. et al. 2018. Measuring physiological stress in the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus): Validation of a salivary cortisol collection and assay technique. Physiology & Behavior 185, 14-22.
Cortisol levels are often used as a physiological measure of the stress response in captive primates, with noninvasive measures of this being an important step in welfare assessment. We report a method of collecting saliva samples voluntarily from unrestrained captive common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus), and validate an enzymelinked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) technique previously unused in this species. Saliva samples were collected from marmosets housed in pairs in a UK laboratory. The assay showed parallelism, precision, accuracy and sensitivity, meeting the criteria typically used to investigate the effectiveness of new analytical techniques. Use of Salimetrics® Oral Swabs considerably increased the amount of cortisol recovered in comparison with previous studies using cotton buds. However, while use of banana on the swabs can encourage chewing, it may influence results. Although increases in cortisol levels have traditionally been interpreted as an indicator of stress in primates, there are many factors that affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, with some studies showing decreases in cortisol levels post-stressor. Following a likely stressful event (capture for weighing), we also found cortisol levels significantly decreased, possibly due to social buffering or ‘blunting’ of the HPA axis. Order of weighing also had an effect. The method therefore provided an effective non-invasive means of assessing acute changes in cortisol level that may be more useful than previous methods, improving our ability to study physiological aspects of welfare in primates. We discuss methodological considerations, as well as implications of using cortisol as a measure of stress.