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Title: Variability of weaning age in mountain gorillas ( Gorilla beringei beringei )
Abstract Objectives

Weaning is a key life history milestone for mammals that represents both the end of nutritional investment from the perspective of mothers and the start of complete nutritional independence for the infants. The age at weaning may vary depending on ecological, social, and demographic factors experienced by the mother and infant. Bwindi mountain gorillas live in different environmental conditions and have longer interbirth intervals than their counterparts in the Virunga Volcanoes, yet other life history characteristics of this population remain less well known. We use long‐term data from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda to examine factors related to weaning age.

Materials and methods

We analyzed data on infants born in four mountain gorilla groups in Bwindi to quantify their age of weaning (defined as last nipple contact) and to test if the sex of offspring, parity, and dominance rank of mother influences age of weaning. We also compared the age at weaning and time to conception after resumption of mating in Bwindi and Virunga gorillas.

Results

Bwindi gorillas were weaned at an average age of 57.5 months. No difference was found between age of weaning for primiparous and multiparous mothers, nor did maternal dominance rank influence age of weaning, but sons were weaned at a later age than daughters. The majority of Bwindi mothers were still suckling when they resumed mating and mothers generally conceived before they weaned their previous offspring. The age of weaning was significantly later in Bwindi than in Virunga gorillas. After mothers resumed mating, the time to conceiving the next offspring was not significantly longer for Bwindi females than Virungas females (6 vs. 4 months).

Discussion

Later weaning age for sons than daughters is similar to findings of other studies of great apes. Bwindi mountain gorillas are weaned at approximately the same age as western gorillas and chimpanzees, which is more than a year later than Virunga mountain gorillas. The results of this study suggest that variation in ecological conditions of populations living in close geographic proximity can result in variation in life history patterns, which has implications for understanding the evolution of the unique life history patterns of humans.

 
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Award ID(s):
1753651
NSF-PAR ID:
10449316
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume:
174
Issue:
4
ISSN:
0002-9483
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 776-784
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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