The ecology of conception and pregnancy failure in wild baboons


Journal Article

Environmental conditions are a key factor mediating reproductive success or failure. Consequently, many mammalian taxa have breeding seasons that coordinate critical reproductive stages with optimal environmental conditions. However, in contrast with most mammals, baboons (Papio cynocephalus) of Kenya reproduce throughout the year. Here we depart from the typical approach of evaluating seasonal effects on reproduction and engage in a more fine-grained analysis of the actual ecological conditions leading up to reproduction for females. Our aim was to determine how environmental conditions, in combination with social and demographic factors, might mediate baboon reproduction. The data set includes all female reproductive cycles from multiple baboon groups in the Amboseli basin between 1976 and 2004. Results indicate that after periods of drought or extreme heat, females were significantly less likely to cycle than expected. If females did cycle after these conditions, they were less likely to conceive; and if they did conceive after drought (heat effects were nonsignificant), they were less likely to have a successful pregnancy. Age also significantly predicted conceptive failure; conceptive probability was lowest among the youngest and oldest cycling females. There was also a trend for high ambient temperatures to contribute to fetal loss during the first trimester but not other trimesters. Finally, group size and drought conditions interacted in their effects on the probability of conception. Although females in all groups had equal conception probabilities during optimal conditions, females in large groups were less likely than those in small groups to conceive during periods of drought. These results indicate that in a highly variable environment, baboon reproductive success is mediated by the interaction between proximate ecological conditions and individual demographic factors. © The Author 2006. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. All rights reserved.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Beehner, JC; Onderdonk, DA; Alberts, SC; Altmann, J

Published Date

  • September 1, 2006

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 17 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 741 - 750

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1465-7279

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1045-2249

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/beheco/arl006

Citation Source

  • Scopus