Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 582–588

Family insurance: kin selection and cooperative breeding in a solitary primate (Microcebus murinus)

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-006-0203-3

Cite this article as:
Eberle, M. & Kappeler, P.M. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2006) 60: 582. doi:10.1007/s00265-006-0203-3


Lactation imposes substantial physiological costs on mothers and should therefore not be directed towards foreign offspring. Such allonursing, however, is common in mammal species that share roosts. Hypotheses to explain allonursing among such plural breeders include misdirected parental care, milk evacuation, brood parasitism, reciprocity, and kin selection. The necessary behavioral data, in combination with data on kinship and kin recognition, have rarely been available to distinguish among these explanations, however. In this study, we provide evidence for cooperative nursing and adoption by plural-breeding females in a nocturnal primate, the gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), in which females forage solitarily during the night, but form day-time sleeping groups with one to two other females. We observed 34 resident females in an 8 ha study area in Kirindy Forest, Madagascar, over three consecutive annual breeding seasons and determined genetic relationships among all members of this population. Five sleeping groups of adult females were filmed inside their roosts during one breeding season after females gave birth. The composition of groups changed substantially across years, but they always consisted of close maternal relatives. All females within a group gave birth to one to three infants. They regularly transferred only their own offspring among roosting sites, demonstrating an ability to discriminate between their own and other’s offspring, but they regularly groomed and nursed related offspring other than their own and adopted related dependent young after their mother’s death. Kin selection may therefore be the main selective force behind cooperative breeding among these closely related females with a high mortality risk, providing each of them with family insurance.


Cooperative breeding Cooperation Kin selection Family Primates Microcebus 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department Behavioral Ecology and SociobiologyGerman Primate CenterGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Department Sociobiology and AnthropologyUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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