Main content area

Milk ejection solicitations and non-nutritive nursings: an honest signaling system of need in domestic pigs?

Špinka, Marek, Illmann, Gudrun, Haman, Jiří, Šimeček, Petr, Šilerová, Jitka
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2011 v.65 no.7 pp. 1447-1457
meta-analysis, milk, milk ejection, piglets, sows
In domestic pigs, about 20% of nursing episodes end without milk transfer (non-nutritive nursings, NNNs). The function of NNNs has not been satisfactorily explained yet. Here, we suggest that NNNs may be a part of an honest signaling system that enables the sow to provide more frequent nutritive nursings (NNs) to those litters that can prove their need through exceptionally frequent milk ejection solicitations. We further propose that the system is kept stable through the accelerating costs attached to the solicitation in the form of NNNs. Based on this hypothesis, we predicted that (P1) with an increasing number of all nursings (ALL = NNNs + NNs) the number of NNs should increase and that (P2) with an increasing number of ALL the proportion of NNNs should increase. We tested P1 and P2 using a meta-analysis applied to data from eight studies that recorded the number of NNs and NNNs in domestic pigs. We confirmed both P1 (NNs increasing with ALL) and P2 (proportion of NNNs increasing with ALL). In combination, these results show a steeply accelerating cost of each additional nutritive nursing that piglets instigate. This cost sets limits to the piglets' ability to solicit higher maternal investment through more frequent nursing solicitations.