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. 2016 May 5;11(5):e0154966.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154966. eCollection 2016.

Two of a Kind or a Full House? Reproductive Suppression and Alloparenting in Laboratory Mice

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Free PMC article

Two of a Kind or a Full House? Reproductive Suppression and Alloparenting in Laboratory Mice

Joseph P Garner et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Alloparenting, a behavior in which individuals other than the actual parents act in a parental role, is seen in many mammals, including house mice. In wild house mice, alloparental care is only seen when familiar sibling females simultaneously immigrate to a male's territory, so in the laboratory, when a pair of unfamiliar female wild mice are mated with a male, alloparenting does not occur because one female will typically be reproductively suppressed. In contrast, laboratory mice are assumed to alloparent regardless of familiarity or relatedness and are therefore routinely trio bred to increase productivity. Empirical evidence supporting the presence of alloparental care in laboratory mice is lacking. Albino and pigmented inbred mice of the strain C57BL/6NCrl (B6) and outbred mice of the stock Crl:CF1 (CF1) were used to investigate alloparenting in laboratory mice since by mating pigmented and albino females with albino males of the same stock or strain, maternal parentage was easily determined. We housed pairs (M:F) or trios (M:2F) of mice in individually ventilated cages containing nesting material and followed reproductive performance for 16 weeks. Females in trios were tested to determine dominance at the start of the experiment, and again 5 days after the birth of a litter to determine if a female's dominance shifted with the birth of pups. Results showed a significant and expected difference in number of offspring produced by B6 and CF1 (p < 0.0001). Pigmented mice nursed and nested with albino pups and vice-versa, confirming empirical observations from many that group nesting and alloparenting occurs in unrelated laboratory mice. When overall production of both individual mice and cages was examined, reproductive suppression was seen in trio cages. Dominance testing with the tube test did not correlate female reproduction with female dominance in a female-female dyad. Due to the reproductive suppression noted in trios, on a per-mouse basis, pair mating outperformed trio mating (p = 0.02) when the measure was weaned pups/female/week. No infanticide was seen in any cages, so the mechanism of reproductive suppression in trio matings may occur before birth.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: KPC and BNG were employees of Charles River at the time this work was performed and both are currently consultants for the company. KPC is also an academic editor at PLOS One. This does not alter the authors' adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

Figures

Fig 1
Fig 1. Diagram of cage location on the rack.
The figure illustrates the location of all the cages followed in this experiment. C57BL/6 mice are identified as inbred and CF1 mice as outbred. Number on the left hand side of the diagram indicates the row of the rack the cage was placed on.
Fig 2
Fig 2
Photographs of mice alloparenting: a) A female albino mouse is seen nursing several of the pigmented female’s pups. The black arrow indicates a newborn pup also nursing at the same time as the older pigmented pups. b) A communal nest site containing pups from both the albino and pigmented female.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Per female production index: LSM and SE values for pair and trio breeding treatments are plotted along the x axis.
* Indicates a significant difference (P < 0.05) between the two values.
Fig 4
Fig 4. Percentage of pup alopecia (hair loss) averaged per female: LSM and SE values for pair and trio breeding treatments are plotted along the x-axis.
Percentages are plotted along a log-transformed y-axis. * Indicates a significant difference (P < 0.05) between the two values.
Fig 5
Fig 5. Cage average production index: LSM and SE values for pair and trio breeding treatments are plotted along the x axis.
NS indicates there is no significant difference between the two values.
Fig 6
Fig 6. Percentage of pup alopecia (hair loss) averaged per cage: LSM and SE values for pair and trio breeding treatments are plotted along the x-axis.
Percentages are plotted along a log-transformed y-axis. * Indicates a significant difference (P < 0.05) between the two values.

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Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work. Two of the authors, BNG and KPC were employed by Charles River at the time the work was completed and currently maintain consulting relationships with Charles River. The funder provided support in the form of salaries for authors BNG and KPC, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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