Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 39–51

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

  • Stefan Fuchs


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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alexander RD (1974) The evolution of social behaviour. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 5:325–383Google Scholar
  2. Barnett SA (1962) Total breeding capacity of mice at two temperatures. J Reprod Fertil 4:327–335Google Scholar
  3. Bateman N (1957) Some physiological aspects of lactation in mice. J Agric Sci 49:60–77Google Scholar
  4. Bateman N (1967) Reduced fertility of mice born in large families. Agricultural Research Council Report, Animal Breeding Research Organisation, pp 14–17Google Scholar
  5. Berry RJ, Jacobson ME (1971) Life and death in an island population of the house mouse Exp Gerontol 6:187–198Google Scholar
  6. Biggers, JD, Finn, CA, McLaren A (1962) Long-term reproductive performance of female mice. II. Variation of litter size with parity. J Reprod Fertil 3:313–330Google Scholar
  7. Cox DF, Legates JE, Cockerham CC (1959) Maternal influence on body weight. J Anim Sci 18:519–527Google Scholar
  8. Crozier WJ, Enzymann EV (1935) On the relation between litter size, birth weight and rate of growth, in mice. J Gen Physiol 19:249–263Google Scholar
  9. Daniel J (1910) Gestation in white mice. J Exp Zool 9:865–870Google Scholar
  10. DeLong KT (1967) Population ecology of feral house mice. Ecology 48:611–634Google Scholar
  11. Enzmann EV (1933) Milk-production curve of albino mice. Anat Ree 56:345–357Google Scholar
  12. Enzymann EV, Saphir NR, Pincus G (1932) Delayed pregnancy in mice. Anat Rec 54:325–341Google Scholar
  13. Falconer DS (1947) Milk production in mice. J Agric Sci 37:224–235Google Scholar
  14. Fleming TH, Rauscher RJ (1978) On the evolution of litter size in Peromyscus leucopus. Evolution 32:45–55Google Scholar
  15. Fuchs S (1981) Consequences of premature weaning on the reproduction of mothers and offspring in laboratory mice. Z Tierpsychol 55:19–32Google Scholar
  16. Hall WG, Rosenblatt JS (1977) Suckling behavior and intake control in the developing rat pup. J Comp Physiol Psychol 91:1232–1247Google Scholar
  17. MacDowell EG, Gates WH, MacDowell CG (1930) The influence of the quantity of nutrition on the growth of the suckling mouse. J Gen Physiol 13:529–545Google Scholar
  18. Machin D, Page S (1973) Effects of reduction of litter size on subsequent growth and reproductive performance in mice. Anim Prod 16:1–6Google Scholar
  19. Mantelenakis SJ, Ketchel MM (1966) Frequency and extent of delayed implantation in lactating rats and mice. J Reprod Fertil 12:391–394Google Scholar
  20. Menz J (1980) Zur Beziehung zwischen Qualität und Anzahl der Jungen in Würfen von Hausmäusen: Wachstumseffizienz in Abhängigkeit von der Milchmenge. Staatsexamensarbeit, Technischen Hochschule Darmstadt, FRGGoogle Scholar
  21. Mühlbock O (1959) Factors influencing the life-span of inbred mice. Gerontologia 3:177–183Google Scholar
  22. Murray WS (1965) Biological significance of factors influencing the incidence of mammary cancer in mice. J Nat Cancer Inst 34:21–41Google Scholar
  23. Myrcha A, Ryszkowski L, Walkowa W (1969) Bioenergetic of pregnancy and lactation in white mouse. Acta Theoriol 15:161–166Google Scholar
  24. Newsome AE (1969) A population study of house mice temporally inhabiting a South Australian wheatfield. J Anim Ecol 38:341–359Google Scholar
  25. Oakeshott JG (1974) Social dominance, aggressiveness and mating success among male house mice (Mus musculus). Oecologia (Berl) 15:143–158Google Scholar
  26. Parker GA, MacNair MR (1979) Models of parent-offspring conflict. IV. Suppression: evolutionary retaliation by the parent. Anim Behav 27:1210–1235Google Scholar
  27. Parkes AS (1929) Note on the growth of young mice suckled by rats. Ann Appl Biol 16:171–173Google Scholar
  28. Reimer JD, Petras ML (1967) Structure of the house mouse, (Mus musculus), in a population cage. J Mammal 48:88–99Google Scholar
  29. Roberts RC (1961) The lifetime growth and reproduction of selected strains of mice. Heredity 16:369–381Google Scholar
  30. Roderick BJ, Storer JB (1960) Correlation between mean litter size and mean life span among 12 inbred strains of mice. Science 134:48–49Google Scholar
  31. Southern HN, Lauric EMO (1946) The house mouse (Mus musculus) in corn ricks. J Anim Ecol 15:134–149Google Scholar
  32. Stearns SC (1976) Life-history tactics: a review of ideas. Q Rev Biol 51:3–47Google Scholar
  33. Thompson LJ, Anderson RR (1977) Effect of pregnancy on lactation in mice. J Dairy Sci 60:126–128Google Scholar
  34. Trivers RL (1974) Parent-offspring conflict. Am Zool 14:249–264Google Scholar
  35. Walliga JH, Bakker H (1978) Effect of long-term selection for litter size in mice on lifetime reproduction rate. J Amin Sci 46:1563–1571Google Scholar
  36. Wilson EO, Bossert WH (1971) A primer of population biology. Sinauer, Stamford, CTGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Fuchs
    • 1
  1. 1.Zoologisches Institut der Technischen Hochschule DarmstadtDarmstadtFederal Republic of Germany

Personalised recommendations