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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Dec 7;274(1628):2981-8.

Producing sons reduces lifetime reproductive success of subsequent offspring in pre-industrial Finns.

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Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK.


Life-history theory states that reproductive events confer costs upon mothers. Many studies have shown that reproduction causes a decline in maternal condition, survival or success in subsequent reproductive events. However, little attention has been given to the prospect of reproductive costs being passed onto subsequent offspring, despite the fact that parental fitness is a function of the reproductive success of progeny. Here we use pedigree data from a pre-industrial human population to compare offspring life-history traits and lifetime reproductive success (LRS) according to the cost incurred by each individual's mother in the previous reproductive event. Because producing a son versus a daughter has been associated with greater maternal reproductive cost, we hypothesize that individuals born to mothers who previously produced sons will display compromised survival and/or LRS, when compared with those produced following daughters. Controlling for confounding factors such as socio-economic status and ecological conditions, we show that those offspring born after elder brothers have similar survival but lower LRS compared with those born after elder sisters. Our results demonstrate a maternal cost of reproduction manifested in reduced LRS of subsequent offspring. To our knowledge, this is the first time such a long-term intergenerational cost has been shown in a mammal species.

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