Thermal benefit of sibling presence in the newborn rabbit

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Abstract

Newborn rabbits compete vigorously for the mother's milk, and survivors benefit from littermate deaths. Here we report that rabbit pups also may benefit from littermate presence in terms of increased thermal efficiency. Pups nursed normally once a day by their mother but otherwise raised alone had a lower probability of survival, lower body temperature, and lower efficiency of converting milk into body mass than their siblings raised with littermates. The contribution of a more favorable thermal environment to the better growth and survival of group-raised pups was supported by the finding that single pups raised at higher ambient temperatures grew more rapidly than single pups raised at lower temperatures. These effects were most clearly seen across Days 2 to 5, after which time differences between treatment groups were no longer significant. Thus, the results of this study suggest that the benefits as well as costs of having siblings must be weighed against each other when considering the manner in which sibling presence influences individual development and survival. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 43: 208–215, 2003.

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