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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2014 Mar-Apr;87(2):276-87. doi: 10.1086/674454. Epub 2014 Jan 22.

The maternal environment affects offspring viability via an indirect effect of yolk investment on offspring size.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011; 2Department of Zoology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078.


Environmental conditions that reproductive females experience can influence patterns of offspring provisioning and fitness. In particular, prey availability can influence maternal reproduction and, in turn, affect the viability of their offspring. Although such maternal effects are widespread, the mechanisms by which these effects operate are poorly understood. We manipulated the amount of prey available to female brown anole lizards (Anolis sagrei) to evaluate how this factor affects patterns of reproductive investment (total egg output, egg size, yolk steroids) and offspring viability (morphology, growth, survival). Experimental reduction of yolk in a subset of eggs enabled us to evaluate a potential causal mechanism (yolk investment) that mediates the effect of maternal prey availability on offspring viability. We show that limited prey availability significantly reduced egg size, which negatively influenced offspring size, growth, and survival. Experimental yolk removal from eggs directly reduced offspring size, which, in turn, negatively affected offspring growth and survival. These findings show that maternal environments (i.e., low prey) can affect offspring fitness via an indirect effect of yolk investment on offspring size and highlight the complex set of indirect effects by which maternal effects can operate.

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