Proximate and ultimate explanations of mammalian sex allocation in a marsupial model
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Offspring sex ratios in mammals vary in potentially adaptive yet unpredictable ways. An integrative approach that simultaneously examines proximate and ultimate explanations of mammalian sex ratios would greatly advance the field. We examined the importance of maternal glucose and stress hormones for offspring sex (male or female) as mechanisms associated with the Trivers–Willard and the local resource competition hypotheses of sex allocation. We tested this framework in a marsupial mammal, the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii). Mothers that were better able to maintain body condition over the driest part of the year, a presumptive proxy for local resource availability, were more likely to produce daughters (the philopatric sex), consistent with local resource competition. Maternal glucose was correlated with offspring sex, but in the opposite direction than we predicted—higher maternal glucose was associated with female pouch young. These patterns, however, were not consistent across the 2 years of our study. Maternal stress hormone metabolites measured from fecal samples did not predict glucose or offspring sex. A causative glucose mechanism may underlie an adaptive strategy for mothers with high local resources (high glucose) to produce philopatric daughters that will benefit from inheriting resource access. Examining species-specific relationships between glucose and offspring sex across mammals could provide crucial insight into the disparate ecological and selective pressures faced by mammals with respect to offspring sex ratio.
KeywordsSex allocation Glucocorticoids Corticosteroids Maternal condition Resource competition Sex ratio Glucose
This research was conducted with the permission of the Australian Department of Defence. We thank J. Wann and T. Smith for assistance in accessing the animals and research facilities, and B. Chambers and R. Bencini for advice on research design, logistics, loaned traps, and lodging. Numerous field assistants helped with the trapping. Comments from C. Johnson, M. Jennions, and D. Reznick improved the manuscript. We thank E. Berkeley, F. Krikowa, B. Maher, R. McCuaig, S. Thomas, and the University of Canberra Faculty of Applied Science Molecular Lab for equipment, space, advice, and assistance with the hormonal analyses. The research was funded by a U.S. National Science Foundation International Research Fellowship (LES), a University of Western Australia Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (KAR), University of Western Australia Research Grants Scheme (KAR), and the Australian Department of Defence (KAR and LES).
This research was conducted in compliance with ethical standards in Australia, under the ethical approval of the University of Western Australia’s Animal Ethics Committee (approval: RA/3/100/897) and Department of Environment and Conservation Research approval (permits: SF007185 and SF007651).
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this paper.
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