Selfish mothers in scavenging dogs (#553)
Cooperation and conflict are essential components of any social system, and these present interesting contexts for studying social organization across species. Free-ranging dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are a good model system for addressing various questions pertaining to the eco-ethology of canids in general, and for understanding the evolution of dogs in particular. We have used free-ranging dog groups in India to study conflict and cooperation between adults and pups during the early stages of life, when the pups are highly dependent on their mothers for sustenance. Using this model system, we have carried out field experiments to study parent-offspring conflict (Trivers 1964) in the context of extended parental care. We observed females and their pups in their natural habitat for the mother’s tendency to share food given by humans with her pups in the weaning and post-weaning stage. Since these dogs are scavengers, and depend largely on human provided food for their sustenance, voluntary sharing of food by the mother with her pups is a good surrogate for extended parental care. Our experiments convincingly demonstrate an increase of conflict and decrease of cooperation by the mother with her offspring over given food within a span of 4-6 weeks in the post-weaning stage (Paul et al 2014). Interestingly, the levels of conflict increase when richer food is provided, indicating the mothers maximize their gain during this time. An increase in the health of the mother within this window of time confirms that the mothers indeed are selfish.