, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 585-593
Date: 20 Jul 2004

Costs and benefits of communal rearing to female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster)

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Abstract

Communal rearing of offspring may help mothers maximize their investment in offspring at a reduced cost to their own bodily condition, thus maximizing their potential for reproductive success. The objective of this study was to quantify the costs and benefits of communal rearing to prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) pups and mothers. Mothers were assigned to one of three social units: solitary mothers, singularly breeding groups (i.e. one mother and one non-reproductive sister) and plurally breeding groups (i.e. two lactating sisters). For each type of social unit, some replicates were provided with food ad libitum, while others were provided with limited food. The body mass of focal mothers (i.e. the first mother to produce a litter) was a significant predictor of pup growth. Regardless of food availability, litters of focal mothers in plurally breeding groups gained more weight than litters reared by solitary mothers. Pups reared in singularly breeding groups were intermediate in weight gain, but did not gain significantly more weight than solitary offspring. There was no difference in the body mass of focal mothers from each type of social unit, regardless of food availability. Within plurally breeding groups, the weight gain of the two litters and body mass of focal and second mothers did not differ. However, focal mothers from plurally breeding groups nursed fewer pups than solitary mothers and also fewer pups than their nestmates when food was limited. Our results suggest that plural breeding results in greater fitness to mothers than solitary and singular breeding.

Communicated by E. Korpimäki