Maternal investment and maternal care provided by mammalian females can change during their ontogeny. Differences may be related to the age and/or experience (parity) of the female. Several hypotheses have been postulated to explain changes in the rate of maternal care of females during their lifetime. The residual reproductive value hypothesis supposes a higher rate of maternal care in older and more experienced females, in contrast the targeted reproductive effort hypothesis predicts lower levels of maternal care in older and/or more experienced females. To test these hypotheses we investigated nursing bout frequency and time devoted to nursing as predictors of the rate of maternal care, and rate of successful nursing bouts as a predictor of maternal investment, in captive giraffe (22 females, 47 calves in four zoos). We also considered the high rate of allonursing (nursing of non-filial calves) which appeared in all herds. The nursing and allonursing bout frequency as well as the total time devoted to nursing and allonursing increased with increasing parity and age of the female, thus supporting the residual reproductive value hypothesis. In addition, maternal experience of individual females in terms of parity rather than age was responsible for variation in maternal behaviour. This suggests that variation depends on individual experiences.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Abrams PA (1991) The fitness costs of senescence: the evolutionary importance of events in early adult life. Evol Ecol 5:343
Altmann J (1974) Observational study of behaviour: sampling methods. Behaviour 49:227–267
Birgersson B, Ekvall K (1994) Suckling time and fawn growth in fallow deer (Dama dama). Zoology 232:641–650
Broussard DR, Risch TS, Dobson FS, Murie JO (2003) Senescence and age-related reproduction of female Columbian ground squirrels. J Anim Ecol 72:212–219
Byers JA, Bekoff M (1990) Inference in social evolution theory: a case study. In: Bekoff M, Jamieson D (eds) Interpretation and explanation in the study of animal behavior. Colo, Westview, Boulder, pp 84–97
Cameron EZ, Linklater WL, Stafford KJ, Minot EO (1999) A case of cooperative nursing and offspring care by mother and daughter feral horses. J Zool 249:486–489
Cameron EZ, Linklater WL, Stafford KJ, Minot EO (2000) Aging and improving reproductive success in horses: declining residual reproductive value or just older and wiser? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 47(4):243–249
Cameron EZ, Linklater WL, Stafford KJ (2003) Social grouping and maternal behaviour in feral horses (Equus caballus): the influence of males on maternal protectiveness. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 53:92–101
Clutton-Brock TH (1984) Reproductive effort and terminal investment in iteroparous animals. Am Nat 123:212–229
Clutton-Brock TH (1991) The evolution of parental care. Princeton University Press
Das SM, Redbo I, Wiktorsson H (2000) Effect of age of calf on suckling behaviour and other behavioural activities of Zebu and crossbred calves during restricted suckling periods. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 67(1-2):47-57
Dolhinow P, McKenna JJ, Vonder Haar Laws J (1979) Rank and reproduction among female langur monkeys: aging and improvement (they’re not just getting older, they’re getting better). Aggressive Behav 5:19–30
Ekvall K (1998) Effects of social organization, age and aggressive behaviour on allosuckling in wild fallow deer. Anim Behav 56:695–703
Fairbanks LA (1996) Individual differences in maternal style: causes and consequences for mothers and offspring. Adv Stud Behav 25:579–611
Gadgil M, Bossert WH (1970) Life historical consequences of natural selection. Am Nat 104:1–24
Gittleman JL, Thompson SD (1988) Energy allocation in mammalian reproduction. Am Zool 28:863–875
Gloneková M, Brandlová K, Pluháček J (2016) Stealing milk by young and reciprocal mothers: high incidence of allonursing in giraffes, Giraffa camelopardalis. Anim Behav 113:113–123
Gloneková M, Vymyslická PJ, Žáčková M, Brandlová K (2017) Giraffe nursing behaviour reflects environmental conditions. Behaviour 154:115–129
Gomendio M (1991) Parent/offspring conflict and maternal investment in rhesus macaques. Animal Behaviour 42(6):993-1005
Green WCH (1990) Reproductive effort and associated costs in bison (Bison bison): do older mothers try harder? Behav Ecol 1:148–160
Green WCH (1993) Social effects of maternal age and experience in bison: pre- and post- weaning contact maintenance with daughters. Ethology 93:146–160
Heard D, Barry S, Watts G, Child K (1997) Fertility of female moose (Alces alces) in relation to age and body composition. Alces 33:165–176
Kirkwood TBL, Austad SN (2000) Why do we age? Nature 408:233–238
Krebs JR, Davies NB, Parr J (1993) An introduction to behavioural ecology, 3rd edn. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Cambridge, MA
Landete-Castillejos T, Garciá A, Garde J, Gallego L (2000) Milk intake and production curves and allosuckling in captive Iberian red deer, Cervus elaphus hispanicus. Anim Behav 60:679–687
Meikle DB, Drickame LC, Vessey SH, Arthur RD, Rosenthal TL (1996) Dominance rank and parental investment in swine (Sus scrofa domesticus). Ethology 102:969–978
Mendl M, Paul ES (1989) Observation of nursing and sucking behaviour as an indicator of milk transfer and parental investment. Anim Behav 37(3):513–515
Mysterud A, Yoccoz NG, Stenseth NC, Langvatn R (2001) The effects of age, sex and density on body weight of Norwegian red deer: evidence of density-dependent senescence. P R Soc London 268:911–919
Nicol CJ, Badnell-Waters AJ (2005) Suckling behaviour in domestic foals and the development of abnormal oral behaviour. Animal Behaviour 70(1):21-29
Oftedal OT (1985) Pregnancy and lactation. In: Hudson RJ, White RG (eds) Bioenergetics of wild herbivores. Fla pp, CRC, Boca Raton, pp 215–238
Ozoga JJ, Verme LJ (1986) Relation of maternal age to fawn rearing success in white-tailed deer. J Wildlife Manage 50:480–486
Packer C, Lewis S, Pusey A (1992) A comparative analysis of non-offspring nursing. Anim Behav 43:265–281
Packer C, Tatar M, Collins A (1998) Reproductive cessation in female mammals. Nature 392:807–822
Payne EH, Genreghziaber M, Hardin J, Edge LE (2017) An empirical approach to determine a threshold for assessing overdispersion in Poisson and negative binomial models for count data. Communication in Statistics - Simulation and Computation 47(5):1–17
Pianka ER, Parker WS (1975) Age-specific reproductive tactics. Am Nat 109:453–464
Pluháček J, Bartošová J, Bartoš L (2010) Suckling behavior in captive plains zebra (Equus burchellii): sex differences in foal behavior. J Anim Sci 88:131–136
Pluháček J, Bartošová J, Bartoš L (2011) A case of adoption and allonursing in captive plains zebra (Equus burchellii). Behav Process 86(2):174–177
Pluháček J, Olléová M, Bartoš L, Bartošová J (2014) Time spent suckling is affected by different social organization in three zebra species. J Zool 292:10–17
Redondo T, Gomendio, M, Medina R (1992) Sex-biased parent-offspring conflict. Behaviour 123:261-289
Roulin A (2002) Why do lactating females nurse alien offspring? A review of hypotheses and empirical evidence. Animal Behaviour 63(2):201-208
Therrien JF, Cote SD, Festa-Bianchet M, Ouellet JP (2007) Maternal care in white-tailed deer: trade-off between maintenance and reproduction under food restriction. Anim Behav 75:235–243
Trivers RL (1972) Parental investment and sexual selection. In: Campbell B (ed) Sexual selection and the descent of man. Aldine, Chicago, pp 136–179
Trivers RL (1974) Parent-offspring conflict. Am Zoo 14:219–261
Wagenmakers EJ, Farrell S (2004) AIC model selection using Akaike weights. Psychon B Rev 11:192–196
Weladji RB, Mysterud A, Holand Ø, Lenvik D (2002) Age related reproductive effort in reindeer (Rangifer tarandus): evidence of senescence. Oecologia 131:79–82
Williams GC (1966) Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
Wolff A, Hausberger M (1994) Behaviour of foals before weaning may have some genetic basis. Ethology 96:1-10
We would like to express our gratitude to zoo managers and staff for cooperation during the data collection, especially Jaroslav Šimek, Barbora Dobiášová and Jan Marek from Prague Zoo, Libuše Veselá from Olomouc Zoo, Luděk Čulík from Safaripark Dvůr Králové and Luboš Melichar from Liberec Zoo. We are thankful to Francisco Ceacero Herrador for his help with Akaike weights and also Radka Šárová for her comments during data processing. We gratefully acknowledge Sarah R. B. King for improving the English.
This work was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic (MZERO0714) CIGA 20185008 and IGA 20185021.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Maternal care in mammals can be expressed by nursing bout frequency and time devoted to nursing and can change with increasing age of the female. The female gains more experience with every calf, i.e. with increasing parity. In our study, we revealed that giraffe females who had produced more calves during their lifetime provide more maternal care in terms of nursing bout duration and frequency. The parity of females seems to be more important than their age, suggesting the role of experience in female nursing behaviour. Interestingly, experienced females provided more care not only to their own offspring but also to offspring of others. We suggest that more experienced females may be more tolerant of non-filial calves due to abundant resources provided in captive conditions.
About this article
Cite this article
Gloneková, M., Brandlová, K. & Pluháček, J. Higher maternal care and tolerance in more experienced giraffe mothers. acta ethol 23, 1–7 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10211-019-00328-4
- Female Age
- Maternal Care
- Terminal investment
- Reproductive effort