Killing conspecific adults in mammals

Proc Biol Sci. 2021 Jul 28;288(1955):20211080. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1080. Epub 2021 Jul 21.


Mammals kill both conspecific infants and adults. Whereas infanticide has been profusely studied, the killing of non-infants (adulticide) has seldom attracted the attention of researchers. Mammals kill conspecific adults by at least four, non-exclusive reasons: during intrasexual aggression for mating opportunities, to defend valuable resources, to protect their progeny and to prey upon conspecifics. In this study, we test which reason is most likely to explain male and female adulticide in mammals. For this, we recorded the presence of adulticide, the ecological and behavioural traits, and the phylogenetic relationship for more than 1000 species. Adulticide has been recorded in over 350 species from the most important Mammalian clades. Male adulticide was phylogenetically correlated with the presence of size dimorphism and intrasexually selected weapons. Female adulticide was phylogenetically associated with the occurrence of infanticide. These results indicate that the evolutionary pathways underlying the evolution of adulticide differ between sexes in mammals. Whereas males commit adulticide to increase breeding opportunities and to compete with other males for mating, females commit adulticide mainly to defend offspring from infanticidal conspecifics.

Keywords: Mammalia; intrasexual selection; lethal intraspecific aggression.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mammals*
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5491249