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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41402. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041402. Epub 2012 Aug 1.

Calcium availability influences litter size and sex ratio in white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus).

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn Alabama, United States of America.


The production of offspring typically requires investment of resources derived from both the environment and maternal somatic reserves. As such, the availability of either of these types of resources has the potential to limit the degree to which resources are allocated to reproduction. Theory and empirical studies have argued that mothers modify reproductive performance relative to exogenous resource availability and maternal condition by adjusting size, number or sex of offspring produced. These relationships have classically been defined relative to availability of energy sources; however, in vertebrates, calcium also plays a critical role in offspring production, as a considerable amount of calcium is required to support the development of offspring skeleton(s). We tested whether the availability of calcium influences reproductive output by providing female white-footed mice with a low-calcium or standard diet from reproductive maturity to senescence. We then compared maternal skeletal condition and reproductive output, based on offspring mass, offspring number and litter sex ratio, between dietary treatments. Mothers on the low-calcium diet exhibited diminished skeletal condition at senescence and produced smaller and strongly female-biased litters. We show that skeletal condition and calcium intake can influence sex ratio and reproductive output following general theoretical models of resource partitioning during reproduction.

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