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Data from: Flexibility in the duration of parental care: female leopards prioritise cub survival over reproductive output

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Balme, Guy A.; Robinson, Hugh S.; Pitman, Ross T.; Hunter, Luke T. B. (2018). Data from: Flexibility in the duration of parental care: female leopards prioritise cub survival over reproductive output [Dataset]. Dryad.


1.Deciding when to terminate care of offspring is a key consideration for parents. Prolonging care may increase fitness of current offspring, but it can also reduce opportunities for future reproduction. Despite its evolutionary importance, few studies have explored the optimal duration of parental care, particularly among large carnivores. 2.We used a 40-year dataset to assess the trade-offs associated with the length of maternal care in leopards in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa. We compared the costs imposed by care on the survival and residual reproductive value of leopard mothers against the benefits derived from maternal care in terms of increased offspring survival, recruitment and reproduction. We also examined the demographic and ecological factors affecting the duration of care in light of five explanatory hypotheses: litter-size, sex-allocation, resource-limitation, timing-of-independence, and terminal-investment. 3.Duration of care exhibited by female leopards varied markedly, from 9–35 months. Mothers did not appear to suffer any short- or long-term survival costs from caring for cubs, but extending care reduced the number of litters that mothers could produce during their lifetimes. Interestingly, the duration of care did not appear to affect the post-independence survival or reproductive success of offspring (although it may have indirectly affected offspring survival by influencing dispersal distance). However, results from generalised linear mixed models showed that mothers prolonged care during periods of prey scarcity, supporting the resource-limitation hypothesis. Female leopards also cared for sons longer than daughters, in line with the sex-allocation hypothesis. 4.Cub survival is an important determinant of the lifetime reproductive success in leopards. By buffering offspring against environmental perturbation without jeopardizing their own survivorship, female leopards apparently ‘hedge their bets’ with current offspring rather than gamble on future offspring which have a small probability of surviving. 5.In many species, parents put their own needs before that of their offspring. Leopard mothers appear sensitive to their offspring's demands, and adjust levels of care accordingly.

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