Maternal investment results in better foal condition through increased play behaviour in horses
Cameron, EZ and Linklater, WL and Stafford, KJ and Minot, EO, Maternal investment results in better foal condition through increased play behaviour in horses, Animal Behaviour, 76, (5) pp. 1511-1518. ISSN 0003-3472 (2008) [Refereed Article]
Play behaviour is widespread in mammals, but benefits to play have been difficult to demonstrate. Physical training is one of the many proposed hypotheses, suggesting that males and females should play differently, that increased maternal investment should lead to increases in play, and that increases in play should result in physical advantages. In a population of feral horses, Equus caballus, males and females did not differ in their play behaviour except that males initiated more of their play bouts than females. Maternal condition influenced play behaviour only in males, with sons of mothers in good condition playing more. However, when we controlled for maternal effects by comparing a son and a daughter of the same mother, daughters played more when their mother was in poor condition and sons played more when their mother was in good condition. Mothers of foals that played more lost more condition. Therefore, the difference in play behaviour could not be explained by offspring sex or maternal condition alone, but play behaviour mirrored variation in maternal investment. In addition, those individuals that played more survived better and had better body condition as yearlings despite weaning earlier. Since increased activity has been linked to enhanced musculoskeletal development in domestic horses, we suggest that play provides a link between increased maternal investment, increased body condition and future reproductive success in feral horses, and probably in other species.
Equus caballus; feral horse; maternal investment; play