For the first time, behavioral ecologists studied the impact of maternal stress on primate infants in the wild.
At their field station in Thailand, researchers of the German Primate Center - Leibniz Institute for Primate Research (DPZ) and the University of Göttingen followed non-human primate mothers through their gestation and their infants through the first one and a half years of their lives.
The offspring of mothers that were stressed from food shortages grew faster than their peers but paid for that with slower motoric development and probably also a weakened immune system. This is the first study on the effects of prenatal stress in long-lived mammals in their natural habitat. The results support the theory that stressed mothers change their unborn’s pace of life (Proceedings of the Royal Society B 20161304).
It is a known fact that maternal stress often has a long-term impact on the unborn child.
Yet, physicians and biologists still discuss as to whether these maternal influences should generally be regarded as pathological or as to whether it is an evolved adaptative mechanism. Are mothers able to program their unborn offspring to increase its evolutionary fitness?
This hypothesis is supported by studies on short-lived mammals such as rats, since the environmental conditions during gestation are very similar to those the offspring will breed in a few month later. The new study suggests that adaptive prenatal stress effects can also occur in long-lived monkeys.
The physiological stress following natural food shortages seemed to have cause accelerated growth among young macaques as evident from the analysis of data on fruit availability in the most important tree species, hormone levels in the feces of mothers and growth curves derived from hundreds of photos of Assamese macaque infants in the hill evergreen forest of northeastern Thailand.
In mammals growth is usually closely related to important developmental milestones. The first author of the study, Andreas Berghänel, explains, "A shortened life expectancy caused by prenatal development disturbances here leads to an accelerated pace of life. The offspring grows faster and reaches sexually maturity quicker allowing for earlier and faster reproduction.”
Even in humans, early life adversities are related to earlier sexual maturity. Nevertheless, Julia Ostner, the head of the field project, is surprised, "The faster pace of life is astounding. We expected that the poor conditions experienced in the womb would have only negative consequences for the young during the gestation period."
And indeed, accelerated growth is only one of the consequences of reduced food availability and an increased glucocorticoid level. Offspring exposed to these conditions showed delayed motoric development and took longer to learn how to dangle from a branch on one leg, to jump backwards or to leap at least five meters far in the canopy of the forest. When an outbreak of conjunctivitis occurred, the external signs were noticed in the infant the longer, the more stress their mothers experienced during gestation. Thus, also the immune system seems to be affected.
It remains unclear whether the prenatal stress also affected the cognitive development of the offspring. Further investigations are needed to determine whether adverse prenatal conditions increase reproductive rates of macaques and reduce their longevity, as predicted by the hypothesis of the internal adaptive response.
Andreas Berghänel, Michael Heistermann, Oliver Schülke and Julia Ostner (2016): Prenatal stress effects in a wild, long-lived primate: predictive adaptive responses in an unpredictable environment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 20161304.
Contact and notes for editors:
Tel: +49 176 2112 3898
Luzie Almenräder (Communication)
Tel: +49 551 3851-424
Printable pictures are available in our Media library. We kindly request a specimen copy in case of publication.
The German Primate Center (DPZ) – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research conducts biological and biomedical research on and with primates in the fields of infection research, neuroscience and primate biology. The DPZ maintains four field stations in the tropics and is the reference and service center for all aspects of primate research. The DPZ is one of 88 research and infrastructure facilities of the Leibniz Association.
Dr. Susanne Diederich | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
New risk factors for anxiety disorders
24.02.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers
24.02.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News