Ontogenetic variation in small-bodied New World primates: implications for patterns of reproduction and infant care

Folia Primatol (Basel). 1997;68(1):1-22. doi: 10.1159/000157226.


This paper explores relations of ontogeny, life history strategies and patterns of infant care in 11 species of small-bodied New World monkeys. Analysis of these data suggests that differences in the social systems of Aotus, Callicebus, Saimiri, Callimico, Saguinus, Leontopithecus, Cebuella and Callithrix are closely tied to both the costs of reproduction and to the ontogenetic requirements of maturing young. In Saimiri, both rapid prenatal body weight and perinatal brain growth result in relatively high metabolic costs to breeding females. These costs, coupled with minimal nonmaternal assistance in caregiving, appear to favor a reproductive strategy that limits offspring production to a single birth at 2-year intervals. In contrast, tamarins and marmosets are capable of producing twins twice in the same year. Prenatal investment in each offspring is relatively low, and the potentially high postnatal costs of nursing 2 infants are minimized by the evolution of a social system involving extensive extramaternal care-giving. Cooperative infant care in callitrichins (tamarins and marmosets) serves to distribute the metabolic costs of infant ontogeny among several group members. Callimico is also characterized by a high reproductive output, with females capable of producing a single infant twice during the year. Infants continue to grow rapidly after weaning. Patterns of infant development in Callimico are similar to those found in tamarins and marmosets and support a close phylogenetic relationship among these taxa. Aotus and Callicebus are characterized by an alternative strategy. In these taxa, a monogamous mating system is associated with paternal certainty, male parental care, and provisioning of the young. The transfer of male energetic resources to a single offspring allows night and titi monkeys to maintain a comparatively short interbirth interval (1 year). Ecological and social factors, such as predation and feeding competition, do not appear to adequately explain much of the observed variation in infant development and preadult growth rates in these platyrrhines. Instead, reproductive strategies are strongly linked to ontogenetic patterns and life histories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Cebidae / physiology*
  • Cebidae / psychology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Organ Size
  • Paternal Behavior*
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction*
  • Species Specificity