Maternal investment in mountain baboons and the hypothesis of reduced care
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It has been argued that female mammals should terminate expensive forms of infant care earlier as habitat quality declines. More recently it has been shown that among a variety of mammalian species, early termination of care is also associated with highly favourable conditions. In this paper we present data on maternal investment decisions among baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) inhabiting the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, and compare these with data from East African baboon studies. Mothers in the mountain habitat face a set of environmental conditions where the problem of resource allocation to offspring is expected to be particularly acute. We begin by using the model of Altmann (1980) of maternal time budgets to demonstrate that mountain baboon mothers experience greater perturbations to their activity budgets while suckling than do mothers in other populations. They also provide consistently greater levels of care to their infants and do so in the absence of any form of overt conflict over access to the nipple. Although this investment results in a relative lengthening of the interbirth interval (IBI), it is accompanied by relatively higher infant survival. We argue that factors that influence the maternal strategy adopted by mountain baboons include slow infant growth rates and a lack of predation in the habitat which influences probability of offspring survival beyond the immediate postnatal period. We suggest that both “care-dependent” sources of mortality (e.g. female reproductive condition, the amount of milk transferred to offspring) as well as “care independent” sources of mortality (e.g. predation, infectious disease) should be considered in studies of parental investment.
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