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Children of divorce: effects of adult replacements on previous offspring in Argentinean owl monkeys

Abstract

According to the Evolutionary Theory of the Family, the replacement of one pair-member by an intruder may have profound consequences for the existing offspring. Step-parents are expected to provide less care towards unrelated immatures than to genetic offspring, unless caring also serves as a mating strategy. Furthermore, because an intruder will be a potential mate for opposite-sexed offspring, relationships between offspring and same-sex parents are predicted to deteriorate. To test these predictions, we studied an Azara’s owl monkey (Aotus azarai) population in Argentina exhibiting serial monogamy and bi-parental care. Since 1997, we have collected demographic data from ca. 25 groups and inter-individual distance data from ca. 150 marked individuals. First, we compared survival and dispersal age of immatures in groups with and without replacements to investigate whether parental care serves as a mating strategy. Second, we compared sex-specific age at dispersal for groups with replacement of opposite-sex parents, same-sex parents, or in stable groups in order to test whether relationships between offspring and same-sex parents deteriorated after the replacement of the other parent. Survival and dispersal ages were not negatively associated with replacements, suggesting that male care might serve, at least partly, as a mating strategy. The time lag between a replacement and the subsequent dispersal of female offspring was greater if the intruder was a male, while the offspring and same-sex parents were less often nearest neighbors after replacements than before. Our results suggest that family disruption through the replacement of a parent is not associated with decreased offspring survival or early dispersion of juveniles, but deteriorates parent–offspring relationships.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to all the students, volunteers, and assistants who helped with data collection. We also thank Mr. F. Middleton, Manager of Estancia Guaycolec, and Alfredo Casaretto (Director of Bellamar Estancias) for the continued support of the Owl Monkey Project. We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and editor Elise Huchard for their very thoughtful comments that helped to improve the manuscript.

Ethical standards

This study conformed to laws of both the USA and Argentina. The Ministerio de la Producción, Subsecretaría de Ecología and Recursos Naturales and Dirección de Fauna from Formosa Province provided permits to conduct the study. The Owl Monkey Project has had continued approval for all research presented here by the Formosa Province Council of Veterinarian Doctors, the Directorate of Wildlife, the Subsecretary of Ecology and Natural Resources, and the Ministry of Production. At the national level, the procedures were approved by the National Wildlife Directorate in Argentina and by the IACUC committees of the Zoological Society of San Diego (2000–2005) and of the University of Pennsylvania (2006–2011).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. MH was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (HU 1746/2-1). EFD acknowledges the financial support during all these years from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation (BCS-0621020), the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation, and the Zoological Society of San Diego.

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Correspondence to Maren Huck.

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Communicated by T. Bakker

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Huck, M., Fernandez-Duque, E. Children of divorce: effects of adult replacements on previous offspring in Argentinean owl monkeys. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66, 505–517 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-011-1297-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-011-1297-9

Keywords

  • Aotus azarai
  • Dispersal
  • Evolutionary theory of the family
  • Night monkeys
  • Parent–offspring conflict
  • Survival