Stress impacts the behaviour in meerkat offsprings at an early age as maternal characteristics can have a profound influence on their children, suggests a new study.
The meerkat is a small carnivoran belonging to the mongoose family.
The study showed that when their mothers feel stressed, it can alter the growth and behaviour in their daughters in such a way that benefits the mothers at their child’s expense, said lead author Ben Dantzer, Assistant Professor from University of Michigan in the US.
Daughters from stressed meerkat mothers grow more slowly early in life. This reduces their future chances of reproducing on their own.
However, the practice is not applicable to sons.
Daughters from stressed mothers instead redirect their energy to rear the future siblings, which should directly benefit their mothers.
“Because early life growth or body mass in daughters is a major determinant of their future reproductive potential, our results highlight that early life stress should reduce the future reproductive success of daughters,” said Dantzer.
For the study, the team from the varsity tested how glucocorticoids — stress hormones — of pregnant females affected the growth and cooperative behaviour of offspring.
Seven meerkat groups that produced 26 litters were observed across three years.
Some pregnant mothers were given cortisol — glucocorticoid class of hormones — which did not affect the pups’ survival rates.
When the pups’ weight and behaviour were tracked, the daughters, whose mothers were treated with cortisol, grew slowly. However, they were more willing to help raise other pups produced by their mother in the future, findings showed published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
It is an interesting possibility that the social group structure of humans — where older siblings may babysit and feed their younger siblings — is similar as in meerkats, Dantzer noted.