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Wild Animal Populations Remain Steady In Tough Times When Mom's Eat Right

Jan 12, 2016 11:02 AM EST

In the wild, a mother's diet is largely responsible for keeping animal populations in check, according to a new study from the University of Edinburgh. Using mathematical models, researchers found offspring tend to mirror their mother's eating habits, which could ultimately help large animal groups prepare for leaner times, suggesting that mothers may really know best.

"How much a mother eats presets the appetite of her offspring. This effect seems to help keep populations of wild animals stable, and may help them avoid extinction," Dr. Tom Little, lead author of the study from the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, explained in a news release.

When a mother senses times are tough and food is scarce, she will eat less and therefore birth less hungry offspring. By shrinking their diets, animals can adapt and survive periods of drought and population booms, for example. 

To investigate the issue further, researchers built a mathematical computer model that helped to disprove the long-standing belief that wild animal populations will grow until they are so big their populations are impacted and begin to dwindle. Populations remain relatively stable, however, when the diet's of mothers are factored into the equation.

Matriarchy – heading up the family – is common in the animal kingdom among multiple species including elephantss, orcas, bonobos, hyenas and even lions. Regulating their own diets is just one more responsibility they assume.

The study's findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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