Higher early life mortality with lower infant body mass in a free-ranging primate

D. Susie Lee, Tara M. Mandalaywala, Constance Dubuc, Anja Widdig, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Traits that reflect the amount of energy allocated to offspring by mothers, such as infant body mass, are predicted to have long-lasting effects on offspring fitness. In very long-lived species, such as anthropoid primates, where long-lasting and obligate parental care is required for successful recruitment of offspring, there are few studies on the fitness implications of low body mass among infants. Using body mass data collected from 253 free-ranging rhesus macaque Macaca mulatta infants on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, we examined if lower infant body mass predicts lower chance of survival through to reproductive maturation (4th year of life). We also used data on inter-birth intervals and suckling behaviours to determine whether the duration of maternal care was adjusted to infant body mass. Rhesus macaque infants experienced on average 5% reduced hazard of death for an increase in body mass of 0.1 SD (~100 g) above the mean within their age–sex class. The positive association between body mass and early life survival was most pronounced in the 1st year of life. Infant body mass tended to be lower if mothers were young or old, but the link between infant body mass and early life survival remained after controlling for maternal age. This finding suggests that maternal effects on early life survival such as maternal age may act through their influence on infant body mass. Mothers of heavier infants were less likely to be delayed in subsequent reproduction, but the estimated association slightly overlapped with zero. The timing of the last week of suckling did not differ by infant body mass. Using infant body mass data that has been rarely available from free-ranging primates, our study provides comparative evidence to strengthen the existing body of literature on the fitness implications of variation in infant body mass.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)2300-2310
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
    Issue number10
    StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


    • early life survival
    • free-ranging animals
    • infant body mass
    • maternal investment
    • primates
    • rhesus macaques

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Animal Science and Zoology


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