Saturday 25 February 2012

Pregnant Monkeys Miscarry to Avoid Infanticide

Joseph Castro, LiveScience Contributor

When a new male gelada monkey takes control of a reproductive group, he will typically kill off the babies of his predecessor. Now, new research shows that pregnant females have an adaptive strategy to minimize their losses: They spontaneously miscarry.

In 1959, biologist Hilda Bruce first demonstrated the so-called Bruce effect in mice, where recently pregnant females miscarry after being exposed to novel males. Since then, researchers have documented the phenomena in other rodent species. However, until now, the Bruce effect seemed to be something restricted to the laboratory, as nobody had conclusively shown that it exists in wild animal populations. Moreover, studies have not shown that there is any evolutionary advantage to miscarrying when confronted with new males.

To see if the Bruce effect exists in gelada monkeys (Theropithecus gelada), Jacinta Beehner, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan, and her colleagues tracked 110 females across 21 groups of wild geladas living in the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia. [Gallery: Photos of Gelada Monkeys]

"We saw that as soon as a new male came into a group, there were no births for the next six months," Beehner told LiveScience. In fact, the researchers documented only two births in these replacement groups in the five years of the study. "We get this big gap, screaming out that something is going on — it's statistically almost impossible to get this by chance."

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