Research ArticleEVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

Postweaning maternal care increases male chimpanzee reproductive success

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Science Advances  18 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 38, eaaz5746
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz5746

Abstract

Humans are unusual among animals for continuing to provision and care for their offspring until adulthood. This “prolonged dependency” is considered key for the evolution of other notable human traits, such as large brains, complex societies, and extended postreproductive lifespans. Prolonged dependency must therefore have evolved under conditions in which reproductive success is gained with parental investment and diminished with early parental loss. We tested this idea using data from wild chimpanzees, which have similarly extended immature years as humans and prolonged mother-offspring associations. Males who lost their mothers after weaning but before maturity began reproducing later and had lower average reproductive success. Thus, persistent mother-immature son associations seem vital for enhancing male reproductive success, although mothers barely provision sons after weaning. We posit that these associations lead to social gains, crucial for successful reproduction in complex social societies, and offer insights into the evolution of prolonged dependency.

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