Among the large placental mammals, ursids give birth to the most altricial neonates with the lowest neonatal:maternal body mass ratios. This is particularly exemplified by giant pandas. To examine whether there is compensation for the provision of developmentally important nutrients that other species groups may provide in utero, we examined changes in the lipids of colostrum and milk with time after birth in giant pandas. Lipids that are developmental signals or signal precursors, and those that are fundamental to nervous system construction, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and phosphatidylserines, appear early and then fall dramatically in concentration to a baseline at 20-30 days. The dynamics of lysophosphatidic acid and eicosanoids display similar patterns, but with progressive differences between mothers. Triglycerides occur at relatively low levels initially and increase in concentration until a plateau is reached at about 30 days. These patterns indicate an early provision of signalling lipids and their precursors, particularly lipids crucial to brain, retinal and central nervous system development, followed by a changeover to lipids for energy metabolism. Thus, in giant pandas, and possibly in all bears, lactation is adapted to provisioning a highly altricial neonate to a degree that suggests equivalence to an extension of gestation.
- animal physiology
- developmental biology