, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 627-639
Date: 24 Dec 2009

Observational evidence of risk-sensitive reproductive allocation in a long-lived mammal

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Organisms should adopt a risk-sensitive reproductive allocation when summer reproductive allocation competes with survival in the coming winter. This trade off is shown through autumn female body mass, which acts as an insurance against unpredictable winter environmental conditions. We tested this hypothesis on female reindeer in a population that has experienced a time period of dramatic increase in abundance. Environmental conditions during winter were fairly stable (with the exception of 1 year). We conclude that increased population abundance (perhaps in interaction with winter environmental conditions) could have represented a worsening of winter environmental conditions as both autumn offspring and spring female body mass decreased during the course of the study. Moreover, we found that the cost of reproduction was related to environmental conditions as: (1) autumn body mass was larger for barren than for lactating females, and this difference was temporally highly variable; (2) lactating females produced smaller offspring than barren ones in the following year; and (3) reproductive output (offspring size) decreased over time. We also found evidence of quality effects as lactating females had a higher reproductive success in the following year. In sum, a worsening of winter conditions lead to: (1) decreased reproductive output; (2) lowered autumn body mass for lactating females; and (3) increased body mass for barren females. Since females reduce their reproductive allocation as winter conditions becomes more severe, we conclude that reindeer have adopted a risk-sensitive reproductive allocation.

Communicated by Jean-Michel Gaillard.