Spontaneous abortion as a response to reproductive conflict in the banded mongoose

Emma L. Inzani, Harry Marshall, Faye J. Thompson, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Michael A. Cant, Emma I. K. Vitikainen

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When breeding females compete for limited resources, the intensity of this reproductive conflict can determine whether the fitness benefits of current reproductive effort exceed the potential costs to survival and future fertility. In group-living species, reproductive competition can occur through post natal competition among the offspring of co-breeding females. Spontaneous abortion could be a response to such competition, allowing females to curtail reproductive expenditure on offspring that are unlikely to survive and to conserve resources for future breeding opportunities. We tested this hypothesis using long-term data on banded mongooses, Mungos mungo, in which multiple females within a group give birth synchronously to a communal litter that is cared for by other group members. As predicted, abortions were more likely during dry periods when food is scarce, and in breeding attempts with more intense reproductive competition. Within breeding events, younger, lighter females carrying smaller fetuses were more likely to abort, particularly those that were also of lower rank. Our results suggest that abortion may be a means by which disadvantaged females conserve resources for future breeding attempts in more benign conditions, and highlight that female reproductive competition may be resolved long before the production of offspring.

© 2019, The Author(s). This is an author produced version of a paper published in BIOLOGY LETTERS uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2019


  • Abortion, Spontaneous
  • Animals
  • Breeding
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Herpestidae
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction
  • abortion
  • banded mongoose
  • cooperative species
  • reproductive suppression
  • female reproductive competition

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