Infant parking and nesting, not allomaternal care, influence Malagasy primate life histories
- First Online:
- Cite this article as:
- Tecot, S.R., Baden, A.L., Romine, N.K. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2012) 66: 1375. doi:10.1007/s00265-012-1393-5
Allomaternal care is a rare, though phylogenetically widespread, mammalian infant care strategy. Among primates, the effects of allomaternal care are marked; its presence correlates with faster infant growth, younger age at weaning, and shorter interbirth intervals. Recent comparative research has found that such fertility benefits are absent in other mammals and are thus unique to primates. In large part because data describing lemur allomaternal care were lacking, the reproductive advantages of allomaternal care have never been demonstrated in Malagasy strepsirrhines. Using newly available data and rigorous phylogenetic methods, we extend this hypothesis to strepsirrhines and test whether allomaternal care in lemurs confers similar maternal reproductive benefits. Contrary to expectations, the presence of allomaternal care did not significantly impact lemur reproductive output; we did not find relationships between allomaternal care and either fetal or postnatal growth rates or interbirth intervals. Rather, infant parking and nesting, strategies employed primarily by litter-bearing species, were positively associated with faster fetal and postnatal infant growth, while nesting was negatively associated with interbirth interval. Thus, although each form of haplorrhine allomaternal care is also observed in Malagasy primates, the effects that these behaviors have on female reproductive output more closely resemble nonprimate mammals. We suggest that Malagasy strepsirrhines may not equally benefit from allomaternal care compared to haplorrhines because reproductive rates are less flexible and allomaternal care may instead increase infant survival in Madagascar’s harsh and unpredictable environment. Our study has significant implications for understanding the evolution of infant care and developmental trajectories in mammals.