Mongooses who are cared for at an early age have lifelong fitness benefits

  • Monday, February 25, 2019

Dr Harry Marshall, Lecturer in Zoology from the Centre for Research in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour, and colleagues have completed a study finding that young banded mongooses who receive care in their first three months will benefit their lifelong fitness in adulthood.

Image - Mongooses who are cared for at an early age have lifelong fitness benefits

Banded mongooses have an average lifespan of two to three years and live in social groups of about thirty individuals. Young mongoose pups are consistently cared for one-to-one by a single adult—not their mother or father. This is a cooperative animal society in which ‘helpers’ work to rear offspring that are not their own.

This new study found evidence that receiving more care in their first three months of life had fitness benefits such as improved growth in banded mongooses. These fitness effects were particularly pronounced in females who had more surviving offspring as adult when they received more care as a pup.

Harry said “Our research suggests that early-life social care has durable benefits to offspring of both sexes in this species. The developmental effects of early-life care are becoming increasingly well-established in animals and humans, and so the effects may well be widespread in social animals.”

This study was conducted in collaboration with Dr Emma Vitikainen from the University of Helsinki, and Professor Michael Cant and Dr Faye Thompson at the University of Exeter.

To read the full article, titled Live long and prosper: durable benefits of early-life care in banded mongooses published in the Royal Society please click here.

The article is part of a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that Dr Marshall and colleagues guest edited (click here). The issue brings together contributions from evolutionary biologists and medical researchers exploring the importance of early-life conditions in animals and humans and discusses how studies of early-life conditions can contribute to understanding how to treat non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

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