The role of maternal behavior and offspring development in the survival of mountain goat kids

Abstract

Studies on juvenile survival have mainly focused on the effects of environmental conditions and maternal traits. However, growing evidence indicates that the ability of parents to care for their young and the offspring developmental behaviors could be key determinants of their survival. We examined the relative influence of (1) environmental conditions, (2) offspring traits, (3) maternal traits, (4) maternal care behaviors, and (5) offspring developmental behaviors on kid survival to weaning and to 1 year old in mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus). Offspring development and maternal care directly affected offspring survival, and this more importantly than did environmental conditions and maternal traits. Frequency of play strongly increased survival before weaning. Greater maternal care increased offspring survival during winter, directly and indirectly through kid mass. Kid mass was also a major determinant of both summer and winter survival. Environmental conditions mainly influenced summer survival while maternal characteristics indirectly affected winter survival through an effect on kid mass. Behavioral adaptations of maternal care and offspring development to local selective pressures can lead to local adaptations and have greater implications in population dynamic studies than previously believed.

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Acknowledgments

Our research was financed by the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Rocky Mountain Goat Foundation, the Alberta Conservation Association, the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the Alberta Wildlife Enhancement Fund, the Université de Sherbrooke, and the Université Laval. We are grateful to the many people who helped with fieldwork at Caw Ridge over the years (especially G. Simard, C. Beaudoin, and Y. Gendreau for help with kid focals), and to M. Festa-Bianchet for his long-term involvement in the goat project. We thank B. Shipley, J.G.A. Martin and J. Béguin for fruitful discussions, and J.P. Tremblay, G. Beauplet, C. Bonenfant, A. Loison, and the Associate Editor for valuable comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sandra Hamel.

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Communicated by Jean-Michel Gaillard.

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Théoret-Gosselin, R., Hamel, S. & Côté, S.D. The role of maternal behavior and offspring development in the survival of mountain goat kids. Oecologia 178, 175–186 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-3198-x

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Keywords

  • Maternal care
  • Maternal effect
  • Offspring survival
  • Path analysis
  • Suckling