The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Diet predicts milk composition in primates


1Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, 2Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 3Department of Anthropology, University of California - Santa Cruz

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Mammalian mothers pay heavy energetic costs to fuel the growth of their offspring. These costs are highest during lactation. Energy transmitted to offspring in the form of milk must ultimately come from the maternal diet, but there have been few comparative studies of the relationship between milk properties and mammalian diets. We used interspecific data on primate milk composition and wild diets to establish that concentrations of milk protein and sugar are predicted by diet independent of maternal mass, litter mass, and infant parking behavior such that increasing folivory or faunivory increases protein concentration but decreases sugar concentration. Milk energy density is unrelated to diet, though infant parking species do produce more energy-dense milk. While parking effects have been previously explained as a result of mother-infant separation, the mechanisms causing the relationship between nutrient packaging in milk and maternal diet are currently unclear. However, they likely reflect evolved differences in maternal energetics related to maternal foraging ecology, infant growth patterns, or the relative dietary abundance of nutrients costly to synthesize in milk among primate species.

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