This study on squirrels has shown being a good mother might be genetic

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Some squirrels are genetically better at being mothers, according to a study.

Research from the University of Guelph in Canada shows that adaptive success in squirrels is often hidden in the genes of their mother.

“Some squirrels are genetically better at being mothers than others,” said Andrew McAdam, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and co-author of the study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society.

The research team analysed 24 years of data from a population of North American red squirrels in Canada’s Yukon and measured maternal genetic effects in squirrel offspring.

“We provide evidence that genetic differences in the nurturing ability of red squirrels affect the fitness of their offspring,” said McAdam.

Biologists have been debating “nature versus nurture”, whether genes or the environment have a greater part in the development of children, for decades.

However, it’s widely believed that mothers make important contributions to the development of their offspring.

“But our study is the first to measure how important these genes in the mothers are to the evolutionary success of their offspring,” said McAdam.

Researchers tracked squirrels using radio collars to find their nests.

They discovered a hidden source of adaptive potential that has not been measured before. “It wasn’t in the genes of the offspring — it was hidden in the genes of their mothers,” McAdam said

These maternal genetic effects on offspring fitness can drive evolution even when offspring genes have no direct effect on fitness, he said.

Although they don’t know all attributes which make for a “better mother,” the researchers found that genetically gifted mothers often give birth earlier in the breeding season and their pups are more successful in establishing territories.

“What is clear is that the benefits of good mothering early in life are compounded across a whole lifetime,” he said.

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