Indiscriminate nursing in communal breeders: a role for genomic imprinting


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Abstract In several communally nesting mammal species, females indiscriminately nurse each others' offspring. Previous hypotheses have suggested that the inability to recognize one's own young during lactation is the result of costs incurred from recognition errors. Here, we propose an alternative hypothesis based on sexual conflict theory and genomic imprinting. In polygynous species, males copulate with several females that may later breed communally. Under such conditions, males benefit from indiscriminate nursing of all their offspring and the reduced risk of female infanticide. This may have selected for paternally expressed genes that suppress kin recognition during lactation.