Placentation and maternal investment in mammals

Isabella Capellini*, Chris Venditti, Robert A. Barton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


The mammalian placenta exhibits striking interspecific morphological variation, yet the implications of such diversity for reproductive strategies and fetal development remain obscure. More invasive hemochorial placentas, in which fetal tissues directly contact the maternal blood supply, are believed to facilitate nutrient transfer, resulting in higher fetal growth rates, and to be a state of relative fetal advantage in the evolution of maternal-offspring conflict. The extent of interdigitation between maternal and fetal tissues has received less attention than invasiveness but is also potentially important because it influences the surface area for exchange. We show that although increased placental invasiveness and interdigitation are both associated with shorter gestations, interdigitation is the key variable. Gestation times associated with highly interdigitated labyrinthine placentas are 44% of those associated with less interdigitated villous and trabecular placentas. There is, however, no relationship between placental traits and neonatal body and brain size. Hence, species with more interdigitated placentas produce neonates of similar body and brain size but in less than half the time. We suggest that the effects of placental interdigitation on growth rates and the way that these are traded off against gestation length may be promising avenues for understanding the evolutionary dynamics of parentoffspring conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-98
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2011


  • Brain evolution
  • Gestation.
  • Life history
  • Parent-offspring conflict
  • Placenta
  • Reproductive strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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