Early Life Stress Alters Helping Behaviour of Meerkat Offspring

Posted on February 28, 2019

Photo: pexels

Part of parenting quality is to make sacrifices to allow their children to have better lives than they did, but according to a new study by the University of Michigan, Kalahari meerkat mothers are different from the norms. When Kalahari meerkat mothers is feeling stressful, it can affect the growth and behavior in their daughters to benefit the mothers at their child’s expense.

Daughters from stressed meerkat mothers will have stunted growth early in life, reducing their future chances of reproducing on their own, however sons from stressed meerkat mothers are not affected. Daughters from stressed mothers redirect their energy to helping to rear the future offspring of their mother, which directly benefit their mothers. As early life growth or body mass in daughters of meerkat is a major determinant of their future reproductive potential, this study hypothesize that early life stress should reduce the future reproductive success of daughters.

This study conducted an experiment to test on how stress hormones of pregnant meerkat females affected the growth and cooperative behavior of offspring. Seven meerkat groups that produced 26 litters were observed 3 years. For the study, some pregnant mothers were given stress hormones, which didn’t affect the pups’ survival rates. The study showed that the daughter whose mothers were treated with stress hormones grew slowly but were more willing to help raise other pups produced by their mother in the future.

The results from this study showed that stressed mothers could affect offspring in such a way that primarily benefits the mothers by increasing the likelihood that the offspring stick around to help care for their future siblings. The researcher of this study claimed that it is an interesting possibility given that the social group structure of humans is similar as in meerkats, whereby older siblings may babysit and feed their younger siblings.

Category(s):Health / Illness / Medical Issues

Source material from Science Daily

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