An international team of scientists, with Spanish participation, has shed light on cannibalism and infanticide carried out by primates, documenting these acts for the first time in the moustached tamarin (Saguinus mystax). The mothers, which cannot raise their infants without help from male group members, commit infanticide in order to prevent the subsequent death of their offspring if they are stressed and in competition with other females.
"Infanticide is an extreme behaviour, and in most species is used by males to eliminate competitors and make females become sexually receptive more quickly", Yvan Lledo-Ferrer, one of the authors of this study and a researcher in the Psychobiology Department at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and at the German Primate Centre, tells SINC.
However, in callithrix primates (the primate family that Saguinus mystax belongs to), it is the females that perpetrate infanticide. "Genetic analysis enabled us to show that the mothers themselves take the lives of their own offspring", says Lledo-Ferrer.
The study, which has been published in the journal Primates, observed three different groups of moustached tamarins in the Peruvian forest from 1999 to 2008 in order to determine how help from male members of the group and the absence of competition between females helped to ensure the survival of infants.
The results show that 75% of infants survive when at least three males are helping, but only 41.7% survive if the group has one or two male helpers. With regard to competition with other females, 80% of infants die at less than three months of age if there are two gestating females in the group. This figure falls to 20% if there is only one reproductive female.
The scientists were surprised when four infants died within the space of a year and the autopsies carried out did not reveal any pathology that would have compromised t
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