, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 1-13

Reproductive strategies of primates: The influence of body size and diet on litter size

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The frequency of multiple births, life history parameters, body size, and diet characteristics were obtained from the literature for 70 primate species. The general pattern within the primate order is to have single infant litters, yet multiple births regularly occur in a number of species in specific phylogenetic groups. Primates which have large litters tend to be small, have short gestation periods and give birth to small infants, which are weaned quickly, and mature rapidly. Species in which multiple births are common also have short interbirth intervals and in the Callitrichidae have males which exhibit paternal care. In addition, they are commonly insectivorous. Although it is difficult to isolate the effects of diet on litter size, independent of body size, analyses suggest that after the influence of body size is statistically removed, as the proportion of insects in the diet increases, animals have larger litters. We suggest that by adopting a mixed diet of insects and fruit primates may be able to ensure access to a seasonally stable food resource that is not greatly restricted by the presence of toxins. This diet would allow a relatively high metabolism and facilitate large litters.