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Am Nat. 2004 May;163(5):635-53. Epub 2004 Mar 18.

Parent-offspring conflict in the evolution of vertebrate reproductive mode.

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Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, V5A 1S6, Canada.


We propose and evaluate the hypothesis that parent-offspring conflict over the degree of maternal investment has been one of the main selective factors in the evolution of vertebrate reproductive mode. This hypothesis is supported by data showing that the assumptions of parent-offspring conflict theory are met for relevant taxa; the high number of independent origins of viviparity, matrotrophy (direct maternal-fetal nutrient transfer), and hemochorial placentation (direct fetal access to the maternal bloodstream); the extreme diversity in physiological and morphological aspects of viviparity and placentation, which usually cannot be ascribed adaptive significance in terms of ecological factors; and divergent and convergent patterns in the diversification of placental structure, function, and developmental genetics. This hypothesis is also supported by data demonstrating that embryos and fetuses actively manipulate their interaction with the mother, thereby garnishing increased maternal resources. Our results indicate that selection may favor adaptations of the mother, the fetus, or both in traits related to reproductive mode and that integration of physiological and morphological data with evolutionary ecological data will be required to understand the adaptive significance of interspecific variation in viviparity, matrotrophy, and placentation.

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