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  1. 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.


    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).


    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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  2. Abstract Objectives

    Several theories have been proposed to explain the impact of ecological conditions on differences in life history variables within and between species. Here we compare female life history parameters of one western lowland gorilla population(Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and two mountain gorilla populations(Gorilla beringei beringei).

    Materials and Methods

    We compared the age of natal dispersal, age of first birth, interbirth interval, and birth rates using long‐term demographic datasets from Mbeli Bai (western gorillas), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Massif (mountain gorillas).


    The Mbeli western gorillas had the latest age at first birth, longest interbirth interval, and slowest surviving birth rate compared to the Virunga mountain gorillas. Bwindi mountain gorillas were intermediate in their life history patterns.


    These patterns are consistent with differences in feeding ecology across sites. However, it is not possible to determine the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for these differences, whether a consequence of genetic adaptation to fluctuating food supplies (“ecological risk aversion hypothesis”) or phenotypic plasticity in response to the abundance of food (“energy balance hypothesis”). Our results do not seem consistent with the extrinsic mortality risks at each site, but current conditions for mountain gorillas are unlikely to match their evolutionary history. Not all traits fell along the expected fast‐slow continuum, which illustrates that they can vary independently from each other (“modularity model”). Thus, the life history traits of each gorilla population may reflect a complex interplay of multiple ecological influences that are operating through both genetic adaptations and phenotypic plasticity.

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