Variation in growth form and precocity at birth in eutherian mammals

Jean-Michel Gaillard, Dominique Pontier, Dominique Allaine, Anne Loison, Jean-Christophe Herve, Annie Heizman

Abstract

Using the flexible Chapman—Richards model for describing the growth curves from birth to adulthood of 69 species of eutherian mammals, we demonstrate that growth form differs among eutherian mammals. Thereby the commonly used Gompertz model can no longer be considered as the general model for describing mammalian growth. Precocial mammals have their peak growth rate earlier in the growth process than altricial mammals. However, the position on the altricial—precocial continuum accounts for most growth–form differences only between mammalian lineages. Within mammalian genera differences in growth form are not related to precocity at birth. This inidicates that growth form may have been associated with precocity at birth early in mammalian evolution, when broad patterns of body development radiated. We discuss four non–exclusive interpretations to account for the role of precocity at birth on the observed variation in growth form among mammals. Precocial and altricial mammals could differ according to (i) the distribution of energy output by the mother, (ii) the ability of the young to assimilate the milk yield, (iii) the allocation of energy by the young between competing functions and (iv) the position of birth between conception and attainment of physical maturity.