Maternal Effects in Mammals
edited by Dario Maestripieri and Jill M. Mateo
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-50119-2 | Paper: 978-0-226-50120-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-50122-2
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.001.0001


Evolutionary maternal effects occur whenever a mother’s phenotypic traits directly affect her offspring’s phenotype, independent of the offspring’s genotype. Some of the phenotypic traits that result in maternal effects have a genetic basis, whereas others are environmentally determined. For example, the size of a litter produced by a mammalian mother—a trait with a strong genetic basis—can affect the growth rate of her offspring, while a mother’s dominance rank—an environmentally determined trait—can affect the dominance rank of her offspring.

            The first volume published on the subject in more than a decade, Maternal Effects in Mammals reflects advances in genomic, ecological, and behavioral research, as well new understandings of the evolutionary interplay between mothers and their offspring. Dario Maestripieri and Jill M. Mateo bring together a learned group of contributors to synthesize the vast literature on a range of species, highlight evolutionary processes that were previously overlooked, and propose new avenues of research. Maternal Effects in Mammals will serve as the most comprehensive compendium on and stimulus for interdisciplinary treatments of mammalian maternal effects.


Dario Maestripieri is a professor of comparative human development, neurobiology, and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago and author of Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World. Jill M. Mateo is an assistant professor of comparative human development and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago.


“This book will be useful to anyone studying maternal effects in any species, as well as to everyone studying mammals. The importance of the issues the editors consider is not just restricted to maternal effects, and their application is not just restricted to mammals. Maternal Effects in Mammals will be highly influential. It will set the tone for research on maternal effects for many years to come.”

— Stephen M. Shuster, Northern Arizona University

"Outstanding ... Zoologists and anthropologists will profit equally from the understanding of the issues raised and discussed in this exceptionally well-constructed and edited volume."—Choice
— Choice



- Dario Maestripieri, Jill M. Mateo
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0001
[maternal effects, research, environmental effects, evolutionary biology, evolution of traits, natural selection, maladaptive phenotypic traits]
This chapter discusses the objective of this volume which is to provide a comprehensive representation of maternal effects research in different mammalian groups, with a balanced emphasis between theory and data, genetic and environmental effects, evolutionary approaches and studies of mechanisms, field and laboratory approaches, and analyses at the populational, organismal, and molecular level. It explains that maternal effects have been the focus of intense scrutiny in recent evolutionary biology research because knowledge of maternal effects is required to fully understand the evolution of traits by natural selection. In addition, maternal effects may also provide a mechanism by which maladaptive phenotypic traits are transmitted across generations. (pages 1 - 10)
This chapter is available at:
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- James M. Cheverud, Jason B. Wolf
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0002
[maternal effects, genetics, evolution, genetic models, natural selection, genetic covariance, maternal environments]
This chapter examines the influence of maternal effects on genetics and evolution. It defines maternal effects as the effects of the environment provided by the mother on the development of her offspring and describes how variation in these maternal environments can be caused by maternal genes and ambient environments. This chapter analyzes genetic models that describe genotype-phenotype relationships and expected evolutionary response in the presence of maternal effects and argues that these models show that evolution can be expected to proceed in the opposite direction of natural selection when the genetic covariance between maternal and direct effects is strongly negative. (pages 11 - 37)
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- Michael J. Wade, Nicholas K. Priest, Tami E. Cruickshank
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0003
[maternal-effect genes, relaxed selective constraint, genetic questions, maternal effects, microarray expression data, DNA sequence data, genetic models, maternal zygotic interactions]
This chapter reviews recent theoretical advances in relation to maternal-effect genes and the theory of relaxed selective constraint (RSC). It explains how to test theoretical predictions using sequence data and discusses how genetic questions on the evolution of maternal effects can be approached using a combination of microarray expression data and DNA sequence data. This chapter also highlights the importance of genetic models of maternal effects and maternal zygotic interactions in improving our understanding of how maternal effects evolve. (pages 38 - 63)
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- Andrew G. Mcadam
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0004
[maternal effects, evolutionary dynamics, wild small mammals, red squirrels, maternal-effect evolution, population cycles, nestling growth rates, directional selection]
This chapter examines the influence of maternal effects on the evolutionary dynamics of wild small mammals. It analyzes work on a natural population of North American red squirrels and discusses some of the implications of genetic maternal effects and maternal-effect evolution for internally driven population cycles in small mammals. The analysis reveals the importance of the model of maternal-effect evolution in explaining the changes in nestling growth rates across generations and the observed changes in red squirrel growth rates in response to episodes of strong directional selection. (pages 64 - 82)
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- Alastair J. Wilson, Marco Festa-Bianchet
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0005
[maternal effects, wild ungulates, phenotypic diversity, evolutionary dynamics, candidate gene approaches]
This chapter reviews the evidence for maternal effects in wild ungulate populations, discussing their prevalence and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. The analysis reveals that maternal effects contribute not only to observed phenotypic diversity in wild ungulates but also in evolutionary dynamics. This chapter stresses the need to determine what specific behavioral, physiological, and genetic mechanisms mediate maternal effects and suggests that candidate gene approaches could offer a useful alternative for scrutinizing loci underlying genetic maternal effects. (pages 83 - 103)
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- W. Don Bowen
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0006
[maternal effects, pinnipeds, offspring size, birth, foraging ability, colony density, social structure]
This chapter examines the influence of maternal effects on the size and development of pinnipeds. The analysis reveals that pinniped offspring are affected by maternal decisions about the timing and location of birth, the foraging ability of mothers, and the ability of mothers to defend and maintain contact with dependent offspring. The results also indicate that the expression of maternal effects on offspring phenotype in pinnipeds is influenced by maternal and offspring environments. These include changes in colony density within and among breeding seasons and social structure. (pages 104 - 132)
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- Jill M. Mateo
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0007
[maternal effects, behavioral development, phenotypes, social experiences, offspring survival, reproductive success, maternal physiology, gonadal hormones, glucocorticoids, melatonin]
This chapter presents an overview of potential maternal effects on behavioral development, including pre- and postnatal effects of social experiences, stress, and seasonality on the expression of developing phenotypes. It suggests that maternal effects will have a selective advantage when they increase the survival and reproductive success of offspring. This chapter also discusses effects of maternal physiology including gonadal hormones, glucocorticoids and melatonin on offspring phenotype. (pages 133 - 158)
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- Bennett G. Galff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0008
[food preferences, feeding behavior, offspring, mammals, maternal effect, dietary preferences]
This chapter investigates how offspring food preferences and feeding behaviors in mammals are influenced by maternal effects. It discusses the behavioral and cognitive mechanisms through which mammalian mothers may influence the development of food preferences and feeding behavior of their offspring, drawing on experimental studies of laboratory rodents as well as observations of free-ranging animals. The analysis reveals that the behavioral processes supporting such maternal effects vary from species to species, ranging from exclusively maternal influences on dietary preferences of weanlings mediated by flavors of foods to influences that all adults can have on the young. (pages 159 - 181)
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- Frances A. Champagne, James P. Curley
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0009
[maternal care, behavior, reproductive development, neuroendocrine responsiveness, gene expression, environmental conditions, epigenetic effects, evolutionary process]
This chapter reviews a large body of recent research showing that variations in maternal care patterns of laboratory rats and mice can alter the behavior, reproductive development, neuroendocrine responsiveness to stress, and maternal care patterns of the offspring, as mediated by alterations in gene expression. The findings show that maternal care exhibits a high degree of plasticity in response to environmental conditions and that the quality of the environment is conferred to offspring by the level of care received. It also suggests that the epigenetic effects reviewed in this chapter may influence evolutionary processes through multiple mechanisms. (pages 182 - 202)
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- John G. Vandenbergh
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0010
[intrauterine position, litter-bearing mammals, fetuses, testosterone, adjacent sibling, fetal membranes, maternal circulation, neuroendocrine mechanisms, hormone transfer]
This chapter examines the influence of intrauterine position on the behavior of litter-bearing mammals. It reviews evidence that hormones from the mother, from exogenous hormone mimics, and from adjacent fetuses in the uterus can have profound effects on the behavior and physiological development of offspring. This chapter suggests that the intrauterine position of fetuses can have significant developmental consequences because males produce relatively high concentrations of testosterone in the prenatal period that can be transferred either through fetal membranes or the maternal circulation to adjacent siblings. The chapter also discusses the neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying hormone transfer between fetuses. (pages 203 - 226)
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- Kay E. Holekamp, Stephanie M. Dloniak
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0011
[maternal effects, fissiped carnivores, maternal social rank, reproductive development, play behavior, dispersal patterns, association patterns, spotted hyenas, maternal care, androgenic hormones]
This chapter describes a wide range of maternal effects on offspring development in fissiped carnivores. It discusses the influence of maternal social rank on offspring status, reproductive development, play behavior, dispersal patterns, and association patterns in spotted hyenas. This chapter also explains the mechanisms underlying these effects which include differential maternal care, nutritional variables, androgenic hormones, insulin-like growth factors, and stress hormones. (pages 227 - 255)
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- Dario Maestripieri
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0012
[maternal influence, offspring growth, behavior, Old World monkeys, dominance rank, maternal dominance, offspring sex ratios, mating preferences, parental behavior, reactivity]
This chapter reviews current knowledge about maternal influences on offspring growth, reproduction, and behavior in nonhuman primates, particularly Old World monkeys. It describes the process by which dominance rank is acquired and transmitted across generations in cercopithecine monkeys and discusses the findings of studies which investigated the influence of maternal dominance and/or body condition on offspring sex ratios at birth. This chapter also examines maternal influences on offspring behavior and physiology, including offspring social and mating preferences, reactivity to the environment and parental behavior. (pages 256 - 291)
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- David F. Bjorklund, Jason Grotuss, Adriana Csinady
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0013
[maternal effects, human cognitive evolution, social intelligence, brain size, delayed maturation, mental representation, social-cognitive changes, developmental systems]
This chapter examines maternal effects in human cognitive evolution. It discusses the changes in social intelligence and argues that the confluence of increased brain size, delayed maturation, and social complexity contributes to the changing nature of mental representation, and that this was most critical in the social realm. This chapter also discusses the possible influence that mothers had in affecting social-cognitive changes over the course of human evolution and argues that mothers are a central component to the developmental systems. (pages 292 - 321)
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- Jill M. Mateo, Dario Maestripieri
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226501222.003.0014
[maternal effects, mammals, phenotype, nutrition, social status, physical environment, climatic variables, anthropogenic effects, demographic shift, senescence]
This chapter sums up the key findings of this study of maternal effects in mammals. It suggests that maternal effects occur when a mother's phenotype influences her offspring's phenotype independent of the genes it inherits from its mother and that these effects can arise before or after birth and can be mediated by the mother's nutrition, physiology, behavior, social status, physical environment, or some combination of these variables. This chapter also proposes long-term studies of wild mammals to better understand variation in maternal effects within individuals across reproductive events as a function of climatic variables, anthropogenic effects, demographic shifts, or senescence. (pages 322 - 334)
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