CIE Seminar Series 2017 – Some mongooses are more equal than others: Causes and consequences of variation in early life care in a cooperatively breeding mammal

SPEAKER: Dr Emma Vitikainen, Centre for Ecology and Conservation – Biosciences University of Exeter, UK

DATE: Friday, 26th May 2017
LOCATION: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds – room ka4.207
TIME: 1:30pm
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Melbourne Campus at Burwood – room T3.22; and Warrnambool Campus – room B3.03

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ABSTRACT: Cooperative breeding is a reproductive strategy where individuals look after young that are not their own. A typical feature of such systems is that not all individuals provide and receive the same amount of care. This variation in the early life care can have profound consequences, impacting growth and life-history trajectories, as well as fitness and senescence of individuals.

I investigate patterns of cooperative care in the banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) where adult ‘escorts’ form exclusive caring relationships with pups born into communal litters. Pups compete over the escorts, with the largest pups receiving most care. In the absence of direct nepotism, co-breeding females compete by increasing their foetal pup size as the number of co-breeding females increases.

I will discuss maternal effects and the role of early life care on life history trajectories of wild banded mongooses, using results from a targeted feeding experiment of pregnant females in combination with 20 years of field observations and pedigree data from our long-term study located in Mweya, Uganda.

BIO: I am an evolutionary biologist studying cooperation and life-history variation in social animals. I finished my PhD on causes and consequences of inbreeding in ants, at the University of Helsinki, Finland, in 2010. I then moved onto larger and furrier creatures and joined the Banded Mongoose Research Project at University of Exeter, UK, for a post-doc on oxidative stress and ageing in the banded mongoose, together with Michael Cant and Jon Blount.

My current research focuses on influences of early life environment on life-history variation in the banded mongoose, using long term and experimental data from our 20-year field project in Uganda.

Appointments with guest speaker may be made via Lee Ann Rollins.