Reproductive Suppression in Subordinate, Non-Breeding Female Damaraland Mole-Rats: Two Components to a Lifetime of Socially Induced Infertility

N. C. Bennett, C. G. Faulkes, A. J. Molteno


The Damaraland mole-rat Cryptomys damarensis exhibits an extreme reproductive division of labour. Reproduction in the colony is restricted to a single breeding pair, resulting from a two-fold control: (i) a reduced pituitary synthesis and/or secretion of luteinizing hormone leading to a block to ovulation in non-reproductive females; and (ii) a strong inhibition to breeding with familar kin. Circulating basal concentrations of luteinizing hormone as well as luteinizing hormone levels measured in response to a single exogenous gonadotrophin releasing hormone challenge, were significantly lower in non-reproductive females in the presence of the reproductive female than those in colonies lacking a reproductive female. Urinary progesterone concentrations before the removal of the reproductive female were significantly higher in non-reproductives than the post removal values. Behavioural studies from sib-sib and non-sib pairings provide evidence for a strong incest avoidance, probably resulting from an inhibition of breeding with familiar colony members. A total of four pairings of non-sibs resulted in copulatory activity and eventual conception. In contrast, four couples of sib-sib combinations failed to produce any sexual activity or offspring. Thus, suppression of reproduction in these non-reproductive, subterranean bathyergids is complicated by the masking effect of familiarity that prevents incest, in addition to the physiological inhibition of fertility in the presence of the reproductive female.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution