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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Aug 7;274(1620):1877-83.

Phenotypic determinants of individual fitness in female fur seals: larger is better.

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Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 79360 Villiers en Bois, France.


Inter-individual differences in fitness in female vertebrates have often been related to phenotypic discrepancies, suggesting that bigger individuals exhibit greater fitness. However, the use of the temporally variable indices of quality, such as body mass/condition, may not represent the most reliable index over longer time intervals. Few studies have assessed the direct influence of body size (BS) on individual fitness. We addressed this knowledge gap using data from long-term monitoring of individually marked female subantarctic fur seals. The females of higher quality (i.e. higher lifetime reproductive success) were larger in BS than their counterparts, which correlated with their ability to provision their pup with greater and more regular energy supply, possibly through the maximization of foraging performance and body fat storage. We accordingly found that our study population could be divided into three contrasted categories of maternal quality, with 33% of the females producing over 71% of the viable offspring constituting the next generation. We suggest that a larger BS represents a crucial selective advantage for a central place forager, especially when exploiting remotely available resources.

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