Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 39-51

First online:

Optimality of parental investment: The influence of nursing on reproductive success of mother and female young house mice

  • Stefan FuchsAffiliated withZoologisches Institut der Technischen Hochschule Darmstadt

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The amount of parental milk investment determines not only the number of young the parent can produce, but also affects the offspring's fitness. The antagonism between quantity and quality of offspring was investigated in laboratory mice.

In nursing first litters containing 2,4, ..., 14 pups, mothers invested increasing amounts of milk. This mainly extended the intervals between their first and second litters and slightly increased the size of their second litters, whilst third litters were not affected. In the female young, the decreasing amount each individual received as a result of increasing litter size led to delayed birth and reduced the size of their first litters. The intervals between their first and second litters and the size of the second litters were also affected, although to a lesser extent.

Taking these results into consideration on a standard lifetime pattern of reproduction, the effects were calculated on net reproductive rates as an expression of fitness. Death rates were assumed that referred to population equilibrium or population growth. In both situations, the fitness curves of mothers and young showed that the actual level of milk investment and the level yielding optimal reproduction were in agreement. There was no significant deviation towards increased investment, as might result from parent-offspring conflict.