Explaining variation in maternal care in a cooperatively breeding mammal

Karen Bales, Jeffrey A. French, James M. Dietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

34 Scopus citations


Because of the necessity of lactation, mammalian mothers must perform at least a minimum amount of infant care. In cooperatively breeding species, other group members aid in all other aspects of infant care. However, some mothers continue to carry and nurse their infants more than others. The golden lion tamarin, Leontopithecus rosalia, is a small, communally breeding primate in the family Callitrichidae. We studied hormonal, individual, historical and social factors hypothesized to contribute to variation in levels of maternal care. We used neonatal weight as a measure of prenatal care, and carrying and nursing as measures of postnatal care. Greater neonatal weight was associated with smaller litter size, lower prepartum levels of oestrogen conjugates, and higher prepartum cortisol levels. Higher rates of carrying during weeks 2 and 3 were associated with higher maternal weight, larger litter size and smaller numbers of helpers per infant. Higher rates of nursing in weeks 2 and 3 were predicted by smaller group size and provisioning of the mother. The most important factors affecting postnatal maternal care were maternal weight, group size, litter size and provisioning status of the mother. Thus, females that display higher levels of maternal care do so either because they have to (they have fewer helpers) or because they can (they are in better condition).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-461
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2002


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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