, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 485-497

What is the appropriate timescale for measuring costs of reproduction in a `capital breeder' such as the aspic viper?

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Abstract

Before we can quantify the degree to which reproductive activities constitute a cost (i.e., depress an organism's probable future reproductive output), we need to determine the timescale over which such costs are paid. This is straightforward for species that acquire and expend resources simultaneously (income breeders), but more problematical for organisms that gather resources over a long period and then expend them in a brief reproductive phase (capital breeders). Most snakes are capital breeders; for example, female aspic vipers (Vipera aspis) in central western France exhibit a 2- to 3-year reproductive cycle, with females amassing energy reserves for one or more years prior to the year in which they become pregnant. We use long-term mark-recapture data on free-living vipers to quantify the appropriate timescale for studies of reproductive costs. Annual survival rates of female vipers varied significantly during their cycle, such that estimates of survival costs based only on years when the females were ‘reproductive’ (i.e., produced offspring) substantially underestimated the true costs of reproduction. High mortality in the year after reproducing was apparently linked to reproductive output; low energy reserves (poor body condition) after parturition were associated with low survival rates in the following year. Thus, measures of cost need to consider the timescale over which resources are gathered as well as that over which they are expended in reproductive activities. Also, the timescale of measurement needs to continue long enough into the post-reproductive period to detect delayed effects of reproductive ‘decisions’.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.