, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 243-249

Aging and improving reproductive success in horses: declining residual reproductive value or just older and wiser?

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In many mammalian species, female success in raising offspring improves as they age. The residual reproductive value hypothesis predicts that each individual offspring will be more valuable to the mother as she ages because there is less conflict between the current and potential future offspring. Therefore, as mothers age, their investment into individual offspring should increase. Empirical evidence for an influence of declining residual reproductive value on maternal investment is unconvincing. Older mothers may not invest more, but may be more successful due to greater experience, allowing them to target their investment more appropriately (targeted reproductive effort hypothesis). Most studies do not preclude either hypothesis. Mare age significantly influenced maternal investment in feral horses living on the North Island of New Zealand. Older mares, that were more successful at raising foals, were more protective for the first 20 days of life, but less diligent thereafter. Total maternal input by older mothers did not seem to be any greater, but was better targeted at the most critical period for foal survival and a similar pattern was observed in mares that had lost a foal in the previous year. In addition, older mothers were more likely to foal in consecutive years, supporting the hypothesis that they are investing less than younger mares in individual offspring. Therefore, older mothers seem to become more successful by targeting their investment better due to experience, not by investing more in their offspring.

Received: 22 September 1999 / Received in revised form: 30 October 1999 / Accepted: 6 November 1999