The cost of dominance: suppressing subordinate reproduction affects the reproductive success of dominant female banded mongooses

M. B. V. Bell, H. J. Nichols, J. S. Gilchrist, M. A. Cant, S. J. Hodge

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Social species show considerable variation in the extent to which dominant females suppress subordinate reproduction. Much of this variation may be influenced by the cost of active suppression to dominants, who may be selected to balance the need to maximize the resources available for their own offspring against the costs of interfering with subordinate reproduction. To date, the cost of reproductive suppression has received little attention, despite its potential to influence the outcome of conflict over the distribution of reproduction in social species. Here, we investigate possible costs of reproductive suppression in banded mongooses, where dominant females evict subordinates from their groups, thereby inducing subordinate abortion. We show that evicting subordinate females is associated with substantial costs to dominant females: pups born to females who evicted subordinates while pregnant were lighter than those born after undisturbed gestations; pups whose dependent period was disrupted by an eviction attained a lower weight at independence; and the proportion of a litter that survived to independence was reduced if there was an eviction during the dependent period. To our knowledge, this is the first empirical study indicating a possible cost to dominants in attempting to suppress subordinate breeding, and we argue that much of the variation in reproductive skew both within and between social species may be influenced by adaptive variation in the effort invested in suppression by dominants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619-624
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1728
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2012


  • reproductive skew
  • cooperative breeding
  • eusociality
  • conflict
  • cooperation

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