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Letters to Nature
Nature 337, 260 - 262 (19 January 1989); doi:10.1038/337260a0

Fitness costs of gestation and lactation in wild mammals

T. H. Clutton-Brock, S. D. Albon & F. E. Guinness

Large Animal Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

Like a number of plants1,2, some mammals commonly produce more progeny than they can afford to rear, terminating investment in some or even all of their offspring once the resources available for breeding are known3–5. Adaptive interpretations of juvenile wastage rely on the argument that the costs of gestation are small compared to those of feeding offspring. Though energetic evidence supports this conclusion6, it is unsafe to assume that the relative costs of gestation and lactation to the mother's survival and future reproductive success follow the same pattern because lactation commonly coincides with the period of maximum food availability. Controlling for individual variation, we show that in wild red deer (Cervus elaphus L) any costs of gestation to the mother's subsequent survival and reproductive success are slight compared to those of lactation.

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