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Competition between females leads to infanticide in some primates
Date:6/8/2011

heir survival. In only one of the unexpectedly observed deaths did the mother kill her own offspring. The rest died "without any help".

"Normally, if infants fall to the forest floor from a height, the group keeps picking it up until the infant no longer has the strength to hold on to its carrier's back. At that point they abandon it on the ground. However, in one of these cases the mother killed her own offspring without it having followed the normal pattern of falling to the ground", the expert explains.

The researchers say that reproductive dominance is not well established in cases where infanticide takes place, and there is competition between females to occupy the dominant position. "This competition leads to high levels of prenatal stress, which can affect the foetus and therefore the viability of the offspring and the mother's milk production", the Spanish scientist points out.

Mothers kill infants that have poor prospects for survival due to the social make-up of the group (low number of helpers and the presence of another gestating female). In the cases observed, "the mother consumed her offspring's brain, thereby obtaining a high-quality supplementary source of nutrients, which somewhat offsets those invested during gestation", says Lledo-Ferrer.

One of the explanations for these acts is that the callithrix are a very unusual kind of primate. They have a cooperative baby care system, in which all the members of the group participate, and raising infants is an "extremely" costly activity the whole group must work together in order to for it to be successful.

In this family of primates, only one female can successfully reproduce in each group, while the rest inhibit their ovulation. They have a six-month gestation period.


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FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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