Photo by MarkThomas from pixabay.

Maternal Death and Offspring Fitness in Multiple Wild Primates


Primate offspring often depend on their mothers well beyond the age of weaning, and offspring that experience maternal death in early life can suffer substantial reductions in fitness across the life span. Here, we leverage data from eight wild primate populations (seven species) to examine two underappreciated pathways linking early maternal death and offspring fitness that are distinct from direct effects of orphaning on offspring survival. First, we show that, for five of the seven species, offspring face reduced survival during the years immediately preceding maternal death, while the mother is still alive. Second, we identify an intergenerational effect of early maternal loss in three species (muriquis, baboons, and blue monkeys), such that early maternal death experienced in one generation leads to reduced offspring survival in the next. Our results have important implications for the evolution of slow life histories in primates, as they suggest that maternal condition and survival are more important for offspring fitness than previously realized.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences