Lifelong fitness benefits of early-life care in banded mongooses

I am a co-author on new paper on early-life effects in banded mongooses with Emma Vitikainen, Faye Thompson and Mike Cant. In this study we show that that mongooses who receive more care as pups are heavier at maturity, which in turn has its own positive effect on lifetime reproductive success.

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Banded mongooses are cooperative breeders, meaning that all adults in the group contribute to caring for the pups. In banded mongooses this takes for the form of one-to-one care with one adult ‘escort’ caring for one pup (see picture). These escorts provide the pups with food and protection and previous research form the Banded Mongoose Research Project has shown that escorting has immediate benefits for pup weight and survival. This new paper shows that these positive effects of caring last into adulthood. This ties in neatly with a study we published last year showing that escorts influence their pups’ foraging behaviour into adulthood. We’ve also shown that the environmental conditions a pups experiences in early-life have lifelong fitness effects.

This and the previous studies emphasises the growing understanding in animals and humans of how important an individual’s period of early development is for the rest of their lives. This study in particular highlights the importance of early social care in determining health, reproduction and survival in adulthood.

This is part of a theme issue in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on early-life effects in evolutionary biology and evolutionary medicine that I and colleagues guest edited.