, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 109-117

Parental investment and the secondary sex ratio in northern elephant seals

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Summary

Data on northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris, bearing on sex ratio theory were collected at Año Nuevo, California, and other Californian and Mexican Islands, during the period 1967 to 1988. The mass of males exceeded that of females by 7–8% at birth and at weaning. The sex ratio was biased to males at birth (51.2%) and was near unity at weaning (49.6% males). The sex ratio did not vary as a function of maternal age or maternal mass except in 6-year-old females, who produced significantly more males. Although sons cost more to rear in energetic terms than daughters, and mothers were more successful weaning the latter, the sex of the pup reared exerted no significant effect on the mother's reproductive performance the following year or on her subsequent survival. These data suggest that parents invest equally in sons and daughters when investment is measured in terms of future reproduction (Fisher 1930) and provide no support for the theory of adaptive shifts in sex ratio (Trivers and Willard 1973). The small sex difference in mass due to maternal effort reflects the fact that females fast during lactation and all energy transferred is from limited body stores. Because of these circumstances, selection for superior condition at the end of the period of parental investment may act more strongly on pups, who have the opportunity to steal milk, than on their mothers.