Heterogeneity in individual quality overrides costs of reproduction in female reindeer
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- Weladji, R.B., Loison, A., Gaillard, JM. et al. Oecologia (2008) 156: 237. doi:10.1007/s00442-008-0961-x
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Reproductive allocation at one age is predicted to reduce the probability of surviving to the next year or to lead to a decrease in future reproduction. This prediction assumes that reproduction involves fitness costs. However, few empirical studies have assessed whether such costs may vary with the age at primiparity or might be overridden by heterogeneities in individual quality. We used data from 35 years’ monitoring of individually marked semi-domestic reindeer females to investigate fitness costs of reproduction. Using multi-state statistical models, we compared age-specific survival and reproduction among four reproductive states (never reproduced, experienced non-breeders, reproduced but did not wean offspring, and reproduced and weaned offspring) and among contrasted age at primiparity. We assessed whether reproductive costs occurred, resulting in a trade-off between current reproduction and future reproduction or survival, and whether early maturation was costly or rather reflected differences in individual quality of survival and reproduction capabilities. We did not find any evidence for fitness costs of reproduction in female reindeer. We found no cost of gestation and lactation in terms of future reproduction and survival. Conversely, successful breeders had higher survival and subsequent reproductive success than experienced non-breeders and unsuccessful breeders, independently of the age at primiparity. Moreover, it was beneficial to mature earlier, especially for females that successfully weaned their first offspring. Successful females at early primiparity remained successful throughout their life, clearly supporting the existence of marked among-female differences in quality. The weaning success peaked for multiparous females and was lower for first-time breeders, indicating a positive effect of experience on reproductive performance. Our findings emphasize an overwhelming importance of individual quality and experience to account for observed variation in survival and reproductive patterns of female reindeer that override trade-offs between current reproduction and future performance, at least in the absence of harsh winters.