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Evolution. 2002 Jan;56(1):167-76.

Convergent maternal care strategies in ungulates and macropods.

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  • 1Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia.


Mammals show extensive interspecific variation in the form of maternal care. Among ungulates, there is a dichotomy between species in which offspring follow the mother ("following" strategy) versus species in which offspring remain concealed ("hiding" strategy). Here we reveal that the same dichotomy exists among macropods (kangaroos, wallabies and allies). We test three traditional adaptive explanations and one new life history hypothesis, and find very similar patterns among both ungulates and macropods. The three traditional explanations that we tested were that a "following" strategy is associated with (1) open habitat, (2) large mothers, and (3) gregariousness. Our new life-history hypothesis is that a "following strategy" is associated with delayed weaning, and thus with the "slow" end of the slow-fast mammalian life-history continuum, because offspring devote resources to locomotion rather than rapid growth. Our comparative test strongly supports the habitat structure hypothesis and provides some support for this new delayed weaning hypothesis for both ungulates and macropods. We propose that sedentary young in closed habitats benefit energetically by having milk brought to them. In open habitats, predation pressure will select against hiding. Followers will suffer slower growth to independence. Taken together, therefore, our results provide the first quantitative evidence that macropods and ungulates are convergent with respect to interspecific variation in maternal care strategy. In both clades, differences between species in the form of parental care are due to a similar interaction between habitat, social behavior, and life history.

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