The offspring of baboons who experienced hardships during childhood have shorter lifespans than their peers. Photo by Chelsea Weibel/University of Notre Dame
Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Adversity animals face early in life can affect the well-being of the next generation, new research suggests.
Between 1976 and 2017, a team of researchers monitored the health and development of 169 baboon mothers and nearly 700 of their offspring in Kenya's Amboseli National Park.
The scientists found that the children of baboon mothers that experienced childhood trauma had shorter lifespans than the children of stress-free moms -- even if the young baboons enjoyed a carefree upbringing.
Baboons can experience hardship in a variety of ways. Young baboons can be orphaned or raised during times of scarcity. They can be birthed by mothers of low social standing or raised alongside competitive siblings.
An earlier study showed baboons that experience one or more types of adversity die 10 years earlier than baboons born into rosy circumstances. The offspring of the same trauma-tested baboons were less likely to make it to adulthood, especially if their moms had competed with a sibling close in age for attention and nutrition.
When mom's have a second infant before the first is done weaning, the consequences are significant.
"Up until the age of four months, baboon kids rarely venture more than a meter from their mother," Susan Alberts, chair of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, said in a news release.
"In the first year of life, a baboon's mom is everything," said Matthew Zipple, a doctoral student in biology at Duke and lead author of the new study, published this week in the journal eLife.
The researchers are now working the better understand how a mother's childhood hardships affect her behavior as a mother -- the suckling and cuddling of her infant. They hope their ongoing research will offer new insights into how environmental stress can trigger the development of disease later in life.
"The analysis suggests that early life adversity in female baboons can have intergenerational effects," scientists wrote in their paper. "More studies are needed to determine if this is also true of humans. If it is, such a result may help explain the persistence of poor health outcomes across generations and shed light on how best to intervene to interrupt this transmission."