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Paternal behaviour presumably evolved because male care of young was critical for offspring survival. We report field evidence indicating that paternal behaviour enhances offspring survival in a monogamous mammal, the biparental California mouse, Peromyscus californicus. Male removal resulted in lower offspring survival in father-absent than in father-present families. New males took up residence with widowed females, but usually after females had stopped lactating, suggesting that the importance of the father is not primarily protection against infanticidal intruders but rather direct care of young.