Nutrition, fertility and maternal investment in primates


  • Phyllis C. Lee

    1. Sub-department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, High St., Madingley, Cambridge CB3 8AA and Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya
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While the energetics of reproduction have been intensively investigated among women, studies of mother-offspring relationships among non-human primates have tended to neglect the effect of nutrition of the mother on lactational performance and on growth and survival of offspring. Typically fertility has been compared between populations under different nutritional regimes. In this paper, the relations between suckling frequencies, the time of weaning, the survivorship of offspring, the contraceptive effects of lactation and the quality of maternal diets are outlined. Energy transfer from mother to offspring in the form of milk is proposed as a measurable component of maternal investment, and the behavioural causes and consequences of lactational anoestrus are explored using data from free-ranging vervet monkeys. It is suggested that nutrition of the mother is most important during the early phase of rapid infant growth, because at that time the energetic requirements of lactation are high; and that a mother's ability to assess her infant's demands and needs for nutrition for growth leads to alterations in suckling frequencies which result in variation in female fertility.