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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Jul 7;271(1546):1385-91.

Sex-biased maternal investment in voles: importance of environmental conditions.

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  • 1Department of Biological and Environmental Science, PO Box 35, FIN-40014, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.


Adaptive bias in sex allocation is traditionally proposed to be related to the condition of mothers as well as to the unequal fitness values of produced sexes. A positive relationship between mother condition and investment into male offspring is often predicted. This relationship was also recently found to depend on environmental conditions. We studied these causalities experimentally using a design where winter food supply was manipulated in eight outdoor-enclosed populations of field voles Microtus agrestis. At the beginning of the breeding season in spring, food-supplemented mothers seemed to be in a similar condition, measured as body mass, head width, body condition index and parasite load (blood parasite Trypanosoma), to non-supplemented mothers. Food supplements affected neither the litter size, the reproductive effort of mothers, nor the litter sex ratios at birth. However, food supplementation significantly increased the birth size of male offspring and improved their condition, as indicated by reduced parasite loads (intestinal Eimeria). Interestingly, mothers in good body condition produced larger male offspring only when environmental conditions were improved by food supplements. Although the adaptiveness of variation in mammalian sex ratios is still questionable, our study indicates that mothers in good condition bias their investment towards male offspring, but only when environmental conditions are favourable.

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