Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 12, pp 1939–1950 | Cite as

Communal nesting, kinship, and maternal success in a social primate

  • Andrea L. BadenEmail author
  • Patricia C. Wright
  • Edward E. LouisJr.
  • Brenda J. Bradley
Original Paper


Communal nesting, where several mothers regularly pool and cooperatively rear offspring, is unusual in mammals. This type of crèching behavior is especially rare among primates, with the notable exceptions of humans, some nocturnal strepsirrhines, and—as we show in this study—black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata). Here, we combine data on nesting behavior, genetic relatedness, and infant survivorship to describe variation in ruffed lemur infant care and to examine the potential benefits of ruffed lemur communal breeding. Reproductive events were rare, and females produced litters (synchronously) only once in 6 years of observation. We show that not all mothers participate in communal crèches, but those that did had greater maternal success; communal breeders spent more time feeding and their offspring were more likely to survive. Although cooperating mothers were often related, females also cooperated with non-kin, and those who shared infant care responsibilities had greater maternal success than mothers who did not participate. If there is indeed a causal link between maternal cooperation and reproductive success, this unusual behavior, like that of human communal rearing, may have evolved via some combination of kin selection and mutualism.


Reproductive success Communal breeding Crèching behavior Lemurs Allomaternal care 



We thank two anonymous reviewers and David Watts for helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We acknowledge Solo Justin, Telo Albert, Lahitsara Jean Pierre, Razafindrakoto Georges, Leroa, Velomaro, Reychell Chadwick, Lindsay Dytham, Randy Junge, and A.J. Lowin for their assistance in the field. Logistical support was provided by MICET, Centre ValBio, and the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership. Special thanks to Carola Borries, Anthony Di Fiore, John Fleagle, Chris Gilbert, Andreas Koenig, Alison Richard, Joan Silk, and the Stony Brook University Behavioral Ecology Group for suggestions and useful discussion on earlier versions of this manuscript. We also thank Gary Aronsen for lab support and Dieter Lukas for advice on permutation analyses. Noel Rowe graciously provided database access to All the World’s Primates. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (ALB, BSC-0725975), The Leakey Foundation (ALB), Fulbright Foundation (ALB), Primate Conservation, Inc. (ALB), Primate Action Fund (ALB), Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo (EEL), Stony Brook University (ALB and PCW), and Yale University (ALB and BJB).

Ethical standards

Research was in compliance with and permission was granted by Stony Brook University IACUC #2005-20081449, Yale University IACUC #2010-11378, and Madagascar’s National Parks (ANGAP/MNP).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2013_1601_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea L. Baden
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Patricia C. Wright
    • 3
  • Edward E. LouisJr.
    • 4
  • Brenda J. Bradley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological SciencesStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  4. 4.Center for Conservation and ResearchHenry Doorly ZooOmahaUSA

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