Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 12, pp 1939-1950

First online:

Communal nesting, kinship, and maternal success in a social primate

  • Andrea L. BadenAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Yale UniversityInterdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences, Stony Brook University Email author 
  • , Patricia C. WrightAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Stony Brook University
  • , Edward E. LouisJr.Affiliated withCenter for Conservation and Research, Henry Doorly Zoo
  • , Brenda J. BradleyAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Yale University

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Communal nesting, where several mothers regularly pool and cooperatively rear offspring, is unusual in mammals. This type of crèching behavior is especially rare among primates, with the notable exceptions of humans, some nocturnal strepsirrhines, and—as we show in this study—black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata). Here, we combine data on nesting behavior, genetic relatedness, and infant survivorship to describe variation in ruffed lemur infant care and to examine the potential benefits of ruffed lemur communal breeding. Reproductive events were rare, and females produced litters (synchronously) only once in 6 years of observation. We show that not all mothers participate in communal crèches, but those that did had greater maternal success; communal breeders spent more time feeding and their offspring were more likely to survive. Although cooperating mothers were often related, females also cooperated with non-kin, and those who shared infant care responsibilities had greater maternal success than mothers who did not participate. If there is indeed a causal link between maternal cooperation and reproductive success, this unusual behavior, like that of human communal rearing, may have evolved via some combination of kin selection and mutualism.


Reproductive success Communal breeding Crèching behavior Lemurs Allomaternal care