The Influence of Reproductive Experience on Milk Energy Output and Lactation Performance in the Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)
Lang, Shelley L. C.
Iverson, Sara J.
Bowen, W. Don
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Although evidence from domestic and laboratory species suggests that reproductive experience plays a critical role in the development of aspects of lactation performance, whether reproductive experience may have a significant influence on milk energy transfer to neonates in wild populations has not been directly investigated. We compared maternal energy expenditures and pup growth and energy deposition over the course of lactation between primiparous and fully-grown, multiparous grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) females to test whether reproductive experience has a significant influence on lactation performance. Although there was no difference between primiparous females in milk composition and, thus, milk energy content at either early or peak lactation primiparous females had a significantly lower daily milk energy output than multiparous females indicating a reduced physiological capacity for milk secretion. Primiparous females appeared to effectively compensate for lower rates of milk production through an increased nursing effort and, thus, achieved the same relative rate of milk energy transfer to pups as multiparous females. There was no difference between primiparous and multiparous females in the proportion of initial body energy stores mobilised to support the costs of lactation. Although primiparous females allocated a greater proportion of energy stores to maternal maintenance versus milk production than multiparous females, the difference was not sufficient to result in significant differences in the efficiency of energy transfer to pups. Thus, despite a lower physiological capacity for milk production, primiparous females weaned pups of the same relative size and condition as multiparous females without expending proportionally more energy. Although reproductive experience does not significantly affect the overall lactation performance of grey seals, our results suggest that increases in mammary gland capacity with reproductive experience may play a significant role in the age-related increases in neonatal growth rates and weaning masses observed in other free-ranging mammals.
Lang, Shelley L. C., Sara J. Iverson, and W. Don Bowen. 2011. "The Influence of Reproductive Experience on Milk Energy Output and Lactation Performance in the Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)." Plos One 6(5): 19487-e19487.