The effect of maternal care on child survival: a demographic, genetic, and evolutionary perspective
Evolution, 61:5, 1153–1161 (2007)
Models of population dynamics generally assume that child survival is independent of maternal survival. However, in humans, the death of a mother compromises her immature children’s survival because children require postnatal care. A child’s survival therefore depends on her mother’s survival in years following her birth. Here, we provide a model incorporating this relationship and providing the number of children surviving until maturity achieved by females at each age. Using estimates of the effect that a mother’s death has on her child’s survival until maturity, we explore the effect of the model on population dynamics. Compared to a model that includes a uniform child survival probability, our model slightly raises the finite rate of increase _ and modifies generation time and the stable age structure. We also provide estimates of selection on alleles that change the survival of females. Selection is higher at all adult ages in our model and remains significant after menopause (at ages for which the usual models predict neutrality of such alleles). Finally, the effect of secondary caregivers who compensate maternal care after the death of a mother is also emphasized. We show that allocare (as an alternative to maternal care) can have a major effect on population dynamics and is likely to have played an important role during human evolution.