Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Competition between females leads to infanticide in some primates

Date:
June 9, 2011
Source:
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology
Summary:
An international team of scientists has shed light on cannibalism and infanticide carried out by primates, documenting these acts for the first time in the mustached 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.

This is a mustached tamarin (Saguinus mystax) in the Peruvian forest.
Credit: Laurence Culot

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.

Related Articles


"Infanticide is an extreme behaviour, and in most species is used by males to eliminate competitors and make females become sexually receptive more quickly," says 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.

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.

Unexpected observations

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 their 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 fetus 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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Laurence Culot, Yvan Lledo-Ferrer, Oda Hoelscher, Fernando J. J. Muñoz Lazo, Marie-Claude Huynen, Eckhard W. Heymann. Reproductive failure, possible maternal infanticide, and cannibalism in wild moustached tamarins, Saguinus mystax. Primates, 2011; 52 (2): 179 DOI: 10.1007/s10329-011-0238-6

Cite This Page:

FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. "Competition between females leads to infanticide in some primates." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110608131332.htm>.
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. (2011, June 9). Competition between females leads to infanticide in some primates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110608131332.htm
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. "Competition between females leads to infanticide in some primates." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110608131332.htm (accessed March 26, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) — Using motion tracking technology, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are trying to establish an optimum horse riding style to train junior jockeys, as well as enhance safety, health and well-being of both racehorses and jockeys. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

AFP (Mar. 25, 2015) — Experts are gathering in Botswana to try to end the illegal wildlife trade that is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Elephants Help Keep 18-Wheeler From Toppling Over

Elephants Help Keep 18-Wheeler From Toppling Over

Newsy (Mar. 25, 2015) — The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff&apos;s Office discovered two elephants keeping a tractor-trailer that had gotten stuck in some mud upright on a highway. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby 'pet' Orangutan Rescued from Chicken Cage Takes First Steps

Baby 'pet' Orangutan Rescued from Chicken Cage Takes First Steps

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) — Buti, a baby orangutan who was left malnourished in a chicken cage before his rescue, takes his first steps after months of painful physical therapy. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins