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Abstract

Many small altricial rodents have a postpartum oestrus and are often simultaneously pregnant and lactating. Negative influences of concurrent pregnancy and lactation on both lactational performance and the litter in utero are commonly observed and have been interpreted as resulting from high simultaneous energetic demands of gestation and lactation. We studied these effects in the precocial guinea-pig (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) that, like many altricial rodents, has a postpartum oestrus, but in which the peaks of energy expenditure on lactation and gestation are widely separated. This life history allowed to investigate whether physiological regulation other than by energetic limitations may be responsible for allocation conflicts arising when lactation and gestation overlap. By comparing simultaneously pregnant and lactating females with lactating non-pregnant females, we show that females in the former group nurse less and wean earlier than females of the latter group. In a comparison of litter size, litter mass, and pup mortality of females that had not been lactating during pregnancy with females that had been simultaneously pregnant and lactating, we show that the latter do not reduce investment in the following litter. In our study, energetic constraints on ad libitum fed females are unlikely and we therefore suggest that the results must be explained by regulatory constraints on lactational effort. We point out that this explanation has not been excluded for the effects observed in altricial small mammals.