Male care and life history traits in mammals

Hannah E.R. West*, Isabella Capellini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
182 Downloads (Pure)


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. However, little is known about the substantial benefits that males may provide to females and offspring. Using phylogenetic comparative methods and a sample of over 500 mammalian species, we show that mammals in which males carry the offspring have shorter lactation periods, which leads to more frequent breeding events. Provisioning the female is associated with larger litters and shorter lactation. Offspring of species with male care have similar weaning mass to those without despite being supported by a shorter lactation period, implying that they grow faster. We propose that males provide an energetic contribution during the most expensive time of female reproduction, lactation, and that different male care behaviours increase female fecundity, which in turn helps males offset the costs of caring.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11854
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


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