Female reproductive competition explains variation in prenatal investment in wild banded mongooses
Marshall, Harry H.
Cant, Michael A.
Vitikainen, Emma I.K.
Nature Publishing Group
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Female intrasexual competition is intense in cooperatively breeding species where offspring compete locally for resources and helpers. In mammals, females have been proposed to adjust prenatal investment according to the intensity of competition in the postnatal environment (a form of ‘predictive adaptive response’; PAR). We carried out a test of this hypothesis using ultrasound scanning of wild female banded mongooses in Uganda. In this species multiple females give birth together to a communal litter, and all females breed regularly from one year old. Total prenatal investment (size times the number of fetuses) increased with the number of potential female breeders in the group. This relationship was driven by fetus size rather than number. The response to competition was particularly strong in low weight females and when ecological conditions were poor. Increased prenatal investment did not trade off against maternal survival. In fact we found the opposite relationship: females with greater levels of prenatal investment had elevated postnatal maternal survival. Our results support the hypothesis that mammalian prenatal development is responsive to the intensity of postnatal competition. Understanding whether these responses are adaptive requires information on the long-term consequences of prenatal investment for offspring fitness.
Vol. 6, Art. No 20013