According to previous studies, pregnancy takes a physical toll that may increase the mother’s levels of toxic metabolites and which causes oxidative damage — causing complications during pregnancy.
The findings revealed that mongooses have evolved to specifically minimise such damage, albeit only temporarily.
Mongooses with more oxidative damage produced pups with lower survival rates, while also being in poor health themselves.
This shielding effect may be partially explained by changes in the content of the mother’s blood, but the details are not yet fully understood, the researchers said.
“We think mother mongooses shield their offspring by reducing their own levels of oxidative damage during breeding,” said lead author Emma Vitikainen at the University of Exeter in Britain.
This suggests that the protective mechanisms during pregnancy may be unsustainable and that they have long-term, potentially harmful, consequences for the mother’s survival.
“She could be trading her own long term well being for the short-term benefit of protecting the growing pups,” Vitikainen added.
Further, this effect was only temporary and that oxidative damage returned to normal levels after pregnancy.
“Our study shows that mothers might be adjusting their physiology,” Vitikainen said.
On the other hand, the mongooses with the least evidence of oxidative damage were the most successful at reproducing.
They had the largest litters of pups and these pups had higher chances of surviving to independence.
For the study, research published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the team followed groups of wild-banded mongooses over five years, measuring oxidative damage markers, as well as the animals’ health and survival.
“An important subject for future research is to determine whether the changes that happen in pregnant mothers are there to benefit the mother, child, or both,” Vitikainen concluded.