Diapause, the temporary cessation of development at an early life-history stage, is widespread among animals and plants. The range of taxa exhibiting various forms of diapause indicates its enormous ecological significance and highlights its value as a model for examining life-history trait evolution. However, despite the impact of diapause on species ecology, there is little understanding of its adaptive value in many groups. Furthermore, the relative roles of phylogeny and ecology in determining the contemporary expression of the trait remain unresolved. Delayed implantation (DI) is a type of diapause found in several orders of mammals. It is particularly prevalent in the Mustelidae, with mustelids making up more than half of all mammals known to exhibit DI. This taxon is thus ideal for examining life-history predictors of DI and investigating the mode of evolution. Both maximum likelihood and maximum parsimony methods of ancestral state reconstruction indicated DI to be plesiomorphic in the mustelids, although multiple state changes are required to explain its contemporary distribution. After controlling for phylogeny, species with and without DI could be discriminated using just three variables: longevity, maximum latitude of the geographical distribution, and a term describing maternal investment. Our analyses supported the hypothesis that DI is more prevalent in seasonal climates. We also showed that longer-lived species are more likely to exhibit DI, suggesting a time cost to the trait. We found no correlate for the highly variable duration of DI, which remains unexplained. Although ecological factors can predict the distribution of DI in modern mustelids, phylogenetic constraint is likely to play an important role.
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