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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Early-life adversity predicts performance and fitness in a wild social carnivore

Gicquel, Morgane; East, Marion L.; Hofer, Heribert; Benhaiem, Sarah


Studies on humans indicate that encountering multiple sources of adversity in childhood increases the risk of poor long-term health and premature death. Far less is known about cumulative effects of adversity during early life in wildlife. Focusing on the spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, a social mammal with small litters, extensive maternal care, slow development and access to resources determined by social rank, we determined the contribution of ecological, maternal, social and demographic factors during early life on performance and fitness, and tested whether the impact of early-life adversity is cumulative. Using longitudinal data from 666 female hyenas in the Serengeti National Park, we determined the early growth rate, survival to adulthood, age at first reproduction (AFR), lifetime reproductive success (LRS) and longevity. We fitted multivariate models in which we tested the effects of environmental factors on these performance measures. We then constructed a cumulative adversity index and fitted models to test the effect of this index on each performance measure. Finally, the value of cumulative adversity models was tested by comparing them to multivariate and single-effect models in which the effect of each environmental factor was considered separately. High maternal rank decreased the AFR of daughters. Singleton and dominant cubs had higher growth rate than subordinate cubs, and singletons also had a higher survival chance to adulthood than subordinates. Daughters of prime age mothers had a higher growth rate, longevity and LRS. Little and heavy rainfall decreased survival to adulthood. Increasing numbers of lactating female clan members decreased growth rate, survival to adulthood and LRS. Cumulative adversity negatively affected short-term performance and LRS. Multivariate models outperformed cumulative adversity and single-effect models for all measures except for AFR and longevity, for which single-effect models performed better. Our results suggest that in some wildlife populations the combination of specific conditions in early life may matter more than the accumulation of adverse conditions as such.


age at first reproduction; cumulative early-life adversity; fitness; lifetime reproductive success; longevity; rainfall; social rank; spotted hyena

Published in

Journal of Animal Ecology
2022, Volume: 91, number: 10, pages: 2074-2086
Publisher: WILEY

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