Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Mothers' appetites can keep size of wild animal groups in check

Date:January 11, 2016
Source:University of Edinburgh

The eating habits of mothers may be key to keeping wild animal populations steady, a study suggests.

The discovery shows that the food intake of mothers -- which impacts on the appetite of their offspring -- protects animals from periods of population boom and bust.

It could explain why a decades-old scientific theory that predicts populations should swell until they are too big, at which point their numbers should crash, has never been validated in the wild.

The findings suggest that the relationship between mothers' appetites and those of their offspring may help populations survive lean times. When conditions are poor, mothers will tend to eat less -- and have less hungry offspring -- making it more likely that the population survives.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh set out to further investigate their recent discovery that how well a mother eats impacts on the appetites of their offspring.

They built a mathematical computer model to better understand how this effect might impact on population sizes. They found that instead of populations consistently rising and falling, as predicted, factoring in the impact of mothers' appetites kept population size relatively stable.

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