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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Andrea L. Baden.

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Communicated by D. P. Watts

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Baden, A.L., Wright, P.C., Louis, E.E. et al. Communal nesting, kinship, and maternal success in a social primate. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1939–1950 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1601-y

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Keywords

  • Reproductive success
  • Communal breeding
  • Crèching behavior
  • Lemurs
  • Allomaternal care