We performed a 3-year experiment in wild meerkats to test the hypothesis that GC-mediated maternal effects reduce the potential for offspring to reproduce directly and therefore cause them to exhibit more cooperative behaviour. Daughters (but not sons) born to mothers treated with cortisol during pregnancy grew more slowly early in life and exhibited significantly more of two types of cooperative behaviour (pup rearing and feeding) once they were adults compared to offspring from control mothers. They also had lower measures of GCs as they aged, which could explain the observed increases in cooperative behaviour. Because early life growth is a crucial determinant of fitness in female meerkats, our results indicate that GC-mediated maternal effects may reduce the fitness of offspring, but may elevate parental fitness as a consequence of increasing the cooperative behaviour of their daughters.
- Early life adversity
- Maternal stress