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Letters to Nature
Nature 313, 220 - 223 (17 January 1985); doi:10.1038/313220a0

Gestation period, neonatal size and maternal investment in placental mammals

R. D. Martin & A. M. MacLarnon

Department of Anthropology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK

Two factors complicate the analysis of scaling relationships between neonatal size or gestation period and maternal size in mammals: (1) a fundamental distinction between species with poorly-developed (altricial) neonates and those with well-developed (precocial) neonates; (2) interaction between all three variables. We show here that altricial and precocial mammals can be clearly distinguished by gestation period relative to maternal weight. Separate analysis of the three variables for altricial and precocial mammals yields more appropriate allometric formulae which can in turn be related to a standard fetal growth formula derived from single-species studies. Hence, an overall equation can be derived across species which links neonatal weight to a combined function of gestation period and a fetal growth parameter. The latter, which provides a measure of maternal investment, is a constant for each species but varies allometrically with maternal weight across species1. Analysis of the fetal growth parameter across species shows that altricial mammals generally have a higher maternal investment for a given gestation period and maternal weight than precocial mammals.

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