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Am Nat. 2007 Nov;170(5):709-18. Epub 2007 Sep 5.

Coadaptation of prenatal and postnatal maternal effects.

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Hartpury College, University of the West of England, Hartpury House, Gloucestershire GL19 3BE, United Kingdom.


In a wide variety of species, a female's age of first reproduction influences offspring size and survival, suggesting that there exists an optimal timing of reproduction. Mothers in many species also influence offspring size and survival after birth through variation in parental care. We experimentally separated these effects in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides to test for coadaptation between prenatal and postnatal maternal effects associated with age at first reproduction. Females that reproduced early produced offspring with lower birth weight. The amount of parental care depended on the age of first reproduction of the caretaker, as did the extent of offspring begging. As predicted for a coadaptation of maternal effects, prenatal and postnatal effects were opposite for different-aged mothers, and larval weight gain and survival was greatest when the age of the caretaker and birth mother matched. Thus, prenatal effects intrinsically associated with age of first reproduction can be ameliorated by innate plasticity in postnatal care. A coadaptation of prenatal and postnatal maternal effects may evolve to allow variable timing of the first reproductive attempt. Such a coadaptation might be particularly valuable when females are constrained from reproducing at an optimal age, as, for example, in species that breed on scarce and unpredictable resources.

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