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Oecologia. 2003 Aug;136(4):543-50. Epub 2003 May 24.

Sociality and individual fitness in yellow-bellied marmots: insights from a long-term study (1962-2001).

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  • 1Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, 110 Newins-Ziegler Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA. olim@wec.ufl.edu


Theoretical and empirical studies suggest that the age of first reproduction (the age at which reproduction begins) can have a substantial influence on population dynamics and individual fitness. Using complete survival and reproductive histories of 428 female yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) from a 40-year study (1962-2001), we investigated causes and fitness consequences of delayed maturity. Most females (86%) died without reproducing. The age of first reproduction of females that survived to reproduce at least once (n=60) ranged from 2 to 6 years. Females maturing later did not have a larger lifetime number of successful reproductive events or offspring production, nor did they experience improved survival. Females reproducing earlier had a higher fitness than those that delayed maturity. These results suggest that the net cost of early maturity was less than fitness benefits associated with early onset of reproduction, and that age of first reproduction in our study population is under substantial directional selection favoring early maturity. We conclude that female yellow-bellied marmots delay onset of reproduction not because of fitness benefits of foregoing reproduction at an earlier age, but due to the social suppression of reproduction by older, reproductive females, which enhances their own fitness to the detriment of the fitness of young females. Our results indicate that female yellow-bellied marmots that survive to reproduce may act to increase their own direct fitness, and that social suppression of reproduction of young females is a part of that strategy.

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