Do mothers prefer helpers or smaller litters? Birth sex ratio and litter size adjustment in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus)

R.A. Boulton, A.W. Fletcher

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Sex allocation theory has been a remarkably productive field in behavioral ecology with empirical evidence regularly supporting quantitative theoretical predictions. Across mammals in general and primates in particular, however, support for the various hypotheses has been more equivocal. Population-level sex ratio biases have often been interpreted as supportive, but evidence for small-scale facultative adjustment has rarely been found. The helper repayment (HR) also named the local resource enhancement (LRE) hypothesis predicts that, in cooperatively breeding species, mothers invest more in the sex which assists with rearing future offspring and that this bias will be more pronounced in mothers who require extra assistance (i.e., due to inexperience or a lack of available alloparents). We tested these hypotheses in captive cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) utilizing the international studbook and birth records obtained through a questionnaire from ISIS-registered institutions. Infant sex, litter size, mother's age, parity, and group composition (presence of nonreproductive subordinate males and females) were determined from these records. The HR hypothesis was supported over the entire population, which was significantly biased toward males (the "helpful" sex). We found little support for helper repayment at the individual level, as primiparous females and those in groups without alloparents did not exhibit more extreme tendencies to produce male infants. Primiparous females were, however, more likely to produce singleton litters. Singleton births were more likely to be male, which suggests that there may be an interaction between litter size adjustment and sex allocation. This may be interpreted as supportive of the HR hypothesis, but alternative explanations at both the proximate and ultimate levels are possible. These possibilities warrant further consideration when attempting to understand the ambiguous results of primate sex ratio studies so far.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)598-606
Number of pages9
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number3
Early online date8 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


  • Helper repayment hypothesis
  • Saguinus oedipus
  • Sex allocation
  • Sex ratio


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