Berghänel, A., Heistermann, M., Schülke, O., & Ostner, J. (2017). Prenatal stress accelerates offspring growth to compensate for reduced maternal investment across mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(50), E10658–E10666. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1707152114
Significance: Maternal stress during gestation causes numerous effects on infant physiology that extend well into adulthood. We contribute to the ongoing debate on whether these effects are adaptive outcomes or merely the product of energetic constraints by presenting an integrated hypothesis that predicts the diversity of observed maternal effects on offspring growth, incorporating both theoretical explanations into one coherent framework. Empirical tests of this hypothesis across mammals suggest that the timing of the stressor during gestation and a simultaneous consideration of maternal investment and adaptive growth plasticity effects are crucial for a full comprehension of prenatal stress effects on offspring growth. The results support an adaptive life history perspective on maternal effects that is relevant for evolutionary biology, medicine, and psychology.