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Growth, weaning and maternal investment from a comparative perspective



The process of weaning is related to a critical or threshold body weight attained by offspring among large-bodied mammals; the anthropoid primates, ungulates and pinnipeds. While weaning weight was allometrically related to maternal weight in interspecific comparisons, it was isometrically related to neonatal weight. When a neonate had grown to four times its birth weight, it was weaned. Differences between taxonomic groups were found only among the fasting phocids, where weanlings attained a lower, but proportional, weight. The duration of lactation was only weakly allometrically related to maternal or neonatal weight, and varied between individuals intraspecifically as a function of maternal condition. The time to weaning appears to be ecologically sensitive rather than to reflect interspecific life-history variation, in that, irrespective of the time to weaning, similar proportional weights appear to be attained. Interspecific similarities in threshold weaning weights are suggested to result from constraints on maternal abilities to meet energetic requirements of offspring through lactation after infants attain a threshold weight.

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