The monophyletic origin of delayed implantation in carnivores and its implications

In several carnivores a newly fertilized egg enters diapause instead of being directly implanted into the uterus, a phenomenon called delayed implantation. Several hypotheses have been forwarded to explain the utility of this prolonged gestation period, but all of these depend on several independent origins of the character. Here, we conduct a phylogenetic reconstruction of the evolution of delayed implantation in the Carnivora that reveals one basal origin, with additional transitions all having occurred within the Mustelidae. Hence, previous hypotheses relating to its evolution become untestable. Further analyses revealed that the presence or absence of delayed implantation is unrelated to the timing of mating season and birth season. Instead, mustelids with direct implantation are smaller than those with delayed implantation. We therefore suggest that delayed implantation has been selected against in small species due to the relatively higher fecundity costs of a prolonged gestation period.

Author P. Lindenfors, L. Dalen and A. Angerbjorn
Year 2003
Secondary title Evolution
Volume 57
Number 8
Pages 1952-1956