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Prospective evolutionary drivers of allocare in wild belugas

In: Behaviour
Authors:
Jaclyn A. Aubin Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology, Dean of Science Office, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL, Canada A1B 3X7

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https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8718-7135
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Robert Michaud Groupe de Recherche et d’Éducation sur les Mammifères Marins, Québec, 870 Salaberry Avenue, Bureau R24, Québec, QC, Canada G1R 2T9

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https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6907-9288
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Eric Vander Wal Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology, Dean of Science Office, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL, Canada A1B 3X7
Department of Biology, 232 Elizabeth Avenue, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL, Canada A1B 3X9

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8534-4317
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Abstract

Allocare, investment in offspring from non-parents, poses an evolutionary enigma. While the fitness trade-offs driving parental care are universal, alloparents may be driven by kin selection, reciprocation, the need to acquire parenting skills (‘learning-to-parent’), an indiscriminate attraction towards infants (‘natal attraction’), or a combination of multiple drivers. Among belugas (Delphinapterus leucas), allocare has been reported in wild and captive populations, but its underlying mechanisms remain untested. Using over 1800 focal observations, we quantified alloparental associations in St. Lawrence Estuary (SLE) belugas to determine whether the learning-to-parent and natal attraction hypotheses are consistent with patterns of allocare in this population. We found that subadults showed little interest in providing allocare and that alloparental investment remained constant across offspring age classes. As the observed patterns of allocare are inconsistent with both the learning-to-parent and natal attraction hypotheses, allocare in SLE belugas is likely driven by kin selection, reciprocation, or a combination thereof.

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