Caretaking, Risk-seeking, and Survival in Anthropoid Primates

  • J. Allman
  • A. Hasenstaub
Part of the Research and Perspectives in Longevity book series (RPL)


Animals with big brains are rare. If brains enable animals to adapt to changing environments, why is it that so few animals have large brains? The answer is that large brains are very expensive, both in terms of the energy needed to support them and the long time needed for them to mature (Allman 1998; Allman and Hasenstaub 1999). Thus the rearing of large-brained offspring requires parental support for commensurately long periods. Moreover, large-brained offspring are mostly single births and the interbirth intervals are long, which also reflect the large costs of rearing these offspring. The parents must live long enough past their sexual maturity to sustain the serial production and maintenance of a sufficient number of offspring to replace themselves while allowing for the early death or infertility of their offspring. If the caretaking parent dies, the orphan will have a high probability of dying as well, but if the non-caretaking parent dies, this event will have little impact on the offspring’s chances of survival. Therefore, we hypothesized that, in large-brained species that have single births, the sex that bears the greater burden in providing care for offspring will tend to survive longer. Genes enhancing the survival of the caretaking parent will be favored by natural selection since they will be more likely to be transmitted to the next generation than genes enhancing the survival of the noncaretaking parent. Male primates are incapable of gestating infants and lactating; but in several species, fathers carry and feed their offspring for long periods, and the young may stay close to the father even after they move independently. According to the caretaking theory, females should live longer than males in the species where the mother does most or all of the care of offspring, there should be no difference in survival between the sexes in species in which both parents participate about equally in infant care, and in those few species where the father does a greater amount of care than the mother, males should live longer. We tested this hypothesis by constructing mortality tables for male and female anthropoids (monkeys, apes and humans) based on studbook records from captive populations and comparing these data with the sexual division of care for offspring (Allman et al. 1998).


World Monkey Spider Monkey Capuchin Monkey Infant Care Male Care 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Allman
  • A. Hasenstaub

There are no affiliations available

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