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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Jul 7;272(1570):1351-6.

Changes in maternal investment in eggs can affect population dynamics.

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  • 1School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK.


The way that mothers provision their offspring can have important consequences for their offspring's performance throughout life. Models suggest that maternally induced variation in life histories may have large population dynamical effects, even perhaps driving cycles such as those seen in forest Lepidoptera. The evidence for large maternal influences on population dynamics is unconvincing, principally because of the difficulty of conducting experiments at both the individual and population level. In the soil mite, Sancassania berlesei, we show that there is a trade-off between a female's fecundity and the per-egg provisioning of protein. The mother's position on this trade-off depends on her current food availability and her age. Populations initiated with 250 eggs of different mean sizes showed significant differences in the population dynamics, converging only after three generations. Differences in the growth, maturation and fecundity of the initial cohort caused differences in the competitive environment for the next generation, which, in turn, created differences in their growth and reproduction. Maternal effects in one generation can therefore lead to population dynamical consequences over many generations. Where animals live in environments that are temporally variable, we conjecture that maternal effects could result in long-term dynamical effects.

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