Primiparous females do not exhibit reduced maternal care in gray seals (Halichoerus grypus)

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Abstract

We compared the behaviors of primiparous and multiparous gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) females over the course of lactation to examine whether poorly developed maternal behaviors may play a role in the reduced lactation performance observed in primiparous females. Overall, primiparous females spent as much time interacting with their pups as multiparous females. The proportion of time spent nursing their pup increased significantly between early and peak lactation in both primiparous and multiparous females. Although there was no significant difference in the duration of nursing bouts as a function of reproductive status, primiparous females nursed significantly more frequently (bouts/hour) and, therefore, spent a significantly greater proportion of time nursing than multiparous females throughout lactation. Primiparous gray seal females were also significantly more active than multiparous females, however, the difference in activity represented only a small proportion of the overall time budget. We conclude that poorly developed maternal behaviors resulting from a lack of prior reproductive experience are unlikely to account for lower levels of milk energy transfer to pups in primiparous gray seals.

Ancillary