Higher offspring mortality with short interbirth intervals in free-ranging rhesus macaques

D. Susie Lee, Angelina V. Ruiz-Lambides, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Short birth intervals have long been linked to adverse child outcomes in humans. However, it remains unclear the extent to which the birth interval has a direct influence on offspring mortality, independent of the confounding effects of modern environments and human sociocultural practices on reproductive behavior. Outside of humans, the relationship between birth intervals and offspring mortality has been rarely tested, leaving an open question of how much the findings from humans imply evolutionarily conserved mechanisms. Here, using ∼9,000 birth records from ∼1,400 free-ranging rhesus macaque mothers, we show that short birth intervals preceding or succeeding the birth of an offspring are both associated with higher offspring mortality, after controlling for heterogeneity across mothers and birth cohorts. We clarify that the mortality risk of a short birth interval to an offspring is contingent on the survival of its older or younger sibling, the condition that reduces maternal resources for investment in the offspring. This finding suggests that life-history tradeoffs between offspring quantity (a short birth interval) and quality (offspring survival) form an evolutionary force shaping variation in birth intervals. Consistent with the well-known observation made in humans, we also found a nonlinear relationship between the preceding interbirth interval and infant mortality. The overall congruence with the findings from the human literature indicates a robust relationship between birth intervals and offspring mortality.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)6057-6062
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number13
    StatePublished - 2019


    • Birth interval
    • Life-history tradeoffs
    • Maternal investment
    • Offspring mortality
    • Rhesus macaques

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General


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