Energetics of gestation relative to lactation in a precocial rodent, the guinea pig (Cavia porcellus)



Caviomorph rodents stand out by showing long gestation periods and by producing few, extremely precocial young. This study compares the energy cost of gestation vs lactation in the guinea pig Cavia porcellus. It tests whether the long gestation period (68 days) relative to the total period of maternal care (88 days) of this species results in a high overall energetic efficiency of reproduction. Although maternal net production during gestation was as high as during lactation, the net energy cost of gestation was much lower than the energy cost of lactation. Mothers' average increase in energy intake (above the non-reproductive level) was only 16% during gestation, but 92% during lactation. Similarly, the peak in maternal energy intake was low during gestation (2.4 times basal metabolic rate) compared to the peak during lactation (3.7 times basal metabolic rate). Consequently, the efficiency of energy conversion into offspring tissue during gestation (62%) was almost twice as high as the efficiency during lactation (35%). The results agree with the hypothesis that a prolonged gestation period increases the overall energetic efficiency of reproduction.