We studied maternal, paternal, and alloparental care in striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio), which nest and breed communally in the succulent karoo, South Africa. A total of 18 triads, each consisting of 2 adult female littermates and an unfamiliar adult male, were set up under natural weather conditions. We expected that relationships within captive triads that breed communally would be egalitarian, and that all individuals would participate in the rearing of offspring, but we assumed that the degree of caregiving behavior would vary between mothers, fathers, and alloparents, because individuals obtain different fitness benefits. Social interactions in the triads were predominantly amicable and in the majority of triads, both females produced litters in a communal nest. All 3 adults in a triad participated in care of the offspring, with mothers spending 43%, fathers 26%, and alloparents 24% of observations in caregiving activities. Our results indicate that sisters can form stable cooperative relationships, but members of a communal nest allocate their caregiving to individual offspring according to potential trade-offs between direct and indirect fitness benefits. Large amounts of paternal care can occur in a polygynous species, which contrasts with the common belief that paternal care is a characteristic of monogamy.
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