Current research on the genomics, ecology and reproductive biology of hystricomorph rodents relies on the pioneering studies of B J Weir and I W Rowlands. We show the enduring influence of a symposium on hystricomorph biology held 50 years ago.
The rodent suborder Hystricomorpha comprises seven families from Africa and Asia and ten from South America, where they have undergone an extensive radiation and occupy a variety of biomes. Although the guinea pig was a common laboratory rodent, little was known about reproductive biology in the other species until the ambitious research programme of Barbara Weir and her mentor I W Rowlands. Much of their work and of others then in the field was summarized at a symposium held 50 years ago at The Zoological Society of London. Currently, there is a resurgence of interest in the reproductive biology of the South American species. Compared to other rodents, unique features include a long gestation, a long oestrous cycle, a tendency to form accessory corpora lutea and a vaginal closure membrane. There is a distinctive placental structure, the subplacenta. Most give birth to precocial young. Individual species exhibit peculiarities such as polyovulation, systematic fetal loss and an active female prostate. Here, we highlight the achievements of Barbara Weir and show how her legacy has been sustained in the twenty-first century by South American scientists.