Social dynamics and individual plasticity of infant care behavior in cooperatively breeding cotton-top tamarins



Individual variation in infant caretaking behavior is prevalent among marmoset and tamarin monkeys. Although most group members participate in infant care, the timing and amount provided differs greatly. In this study, we quantified general trends in infant carrying behavior by using a longitudinal database that included 11 years of instantaneous scan observations following 80 births of cotton-top tamarins. Using detailed focal observations on a subset of the same families (10 births) we identified influences that affected expression of infant care at the group and individual levels. Fathers were the primary carriers and paternal carry time gradually decreased with increasing infant age. Paternal carry time also decreased significantly with an increasing number of older sibling helpers. Most fathers began to carry on the first day postpartum. However, we report circumstances in which fathers delayed carrying until almost a month postpartum. Fathers retrieved infants the most, although adult brothers' rates of retrievals peaked and surpassed fathers' rates during week 4 postpartum. Fathers delayed rejection of infants until week 4, whereas mothers rejected infants immediately and throughout the eight weeks. Nonetheless, infants climbed onto their mothers more than onto any other family member. Mothers showed a high initial investment in carrying during the first two weeks, decreasing quickly thereafter. Maternal contributions to infant carrying remained low and relatively consistent regardless of group size. However, mothers dramatically increased their infant carrying behavior in families in which fathers were absent. Older siblings cared for infants more than did younger siblings, and brothers retrieved and carried infants more than did sisters. Individual expression of infant care changed to accommodate infant needs and changed according to varying social dynamics and circumstances across litters. Am. J. Primatol. 72:296–306, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.