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Journal Article

The evolution of infanticide by females in mammals


Lukas,  Dieter       
Department of Human Behavior Ecology and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Lukas, D., & Huchard, E. (2019). The evolution of infanticide by females in mammals. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 374(1780): 20180075. doi:10.1098/rstb.2018.0075.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-CF61-7
In most mammalian species, females regularly interact with kin, and it may thus be difficult to understand the evolution of some aggressive and harmful competitive behaviour among females, such as infanticide. Here, we investigate the evolutionary determinants of infanticide by females by combining a quantitative analysis of the taxonomic distribution of infanticide with a qualitative synthesis of the circumstances of infanticidal attacks in published reports. Our results show that female infanticide is widespread across mammals and varies in relation to social organization and life-history, being more frequent where females breed in groups and have intense bouts of high reproductive output. Specifically, female infanticide occurs where the proximity of conspecific offspring directly threatens the killer’s reproductive success by limiting access to critical resources for her dependent progeny, including food, shelters, care or a social position. In contrast, infanticide is not immediately modulated by the degree of kinship among females, and females occasionally sacrifice closely related juveniles. Our findings suggest that the potential direct fitness rewards of gaining access to reproductive resources have a stronger influence on the expression of female aggression than the indirect fitness costs of competing against kin.