University of Hull Proud to Announce Published Study into Evolution of Parental Care in Male Mammals

Dr Isabella Capellini, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology and Hannah West, PhD Student at the University of Hull, have had their paper Male Care and Life History Traits in Mammals published in Nature Communications, the 3rd world ranking discovery journal.

Nature Communications is an open access journal that publishes high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences.

Dr Capellini says: ‘In most mammals, males do not provide any care for their offspring but in about 10% of species males provision, carry, groom or huddle with them, and so spend substantial amount of time and energy in parental duties. So we were interested in finding out which potential benefits male parental care might have for mothers and offspring’.

Little is known about the substantial benefits that males may provide to females and offspring. Male care has energetic and opportunity costs, and is more likely to evolve when males gain greater certainty of paternity or when future mating opportunities are scarce.

The study aimed to determine the benefits males provide to females and offspring through male care. Phylogenetic comparative methods were used on a sample of 500 mammalian species.

The Results show that when males carry offspring a shorter lactation time occurs which leads to more frequent breeding, while litters are larger when males provision the mother. Offspring of species with male care grow faster.

The study proposes that males provide an energetic contribution during the most expensive time of female reproduction, which is lactation, and that different male care behaviours increase female fecundity, which in turn helps males offset the costs of caring.

Miss Hannah West says: ‘Surprisingly, we found that regardless of the specific behaviour – carrying heavy offspring or provisioning the mother – male care ultimately has the same ‘effect’ on female reproduction: when males care, females have more numerous offspring. This in turn helps males offset the costs of parental care as they can father more offspring’.

The study has been funded through a Hull Postgraduate studentship.

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