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Trade-offs between growth and maturation: the cost of reproduction for surviving environmental extremes


Life-history trade-offs and the costs of reproduction are central concepts in evolution and ecology. Episodic climatic events such as drought and extreme temperatures provide strong selective pressures that can change the balance of these costs and trade-offs. We used size-structured matrix models parameterized from field and laboratory studies to examine the effect of periodic drought on two species of aquatic salamanders (greater siren, Siren lacertina; lesser siren, Siren intermedia) that differ in size at reproduction and maximum body size. Post-drought body size distributions of the larger species (S. lacertina) are consistent with size-dependent mortality. Smaller individuals were extirpated from the population during each drought while large animals persisted, a pattern that contrasted with that seen in several ectotherms. This appears to be largely explained by estivation proficiency and a positive relationship between body size and estivation potential. Increased body size, however, may come at the cost of fecundity and maturation rate compared to a closely related congener. The cost of somatic allocation in this case may manifest itself via reduced per-capita competitive ability, which (at least in simulation studies) allows the smaller, fast-maturing species to outcompete the larger, slow-maturing species when drought is minimal or nonexistent.

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R. Semlitsch, S. Pittman, T. Meckley, and G. Connette provided helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. A. Tucker provided data from 1993 sampling of greater sirens. K. McCleod, and R. Lide provided wetland data. J. W. Gibbons, T. Tuberville, K. Buhlmann, S. Poppy, and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory provided lab space, academic support, and materials used during parameter data collection. R. Cocroft and the IBM Model Class of 2010 at the University of Missouri provided suggestions and help during initial model development. The Trans-World Airlines Scholarship and Life Sciences Fellowship at the University of Missouri provided financial support to TML during the course of model development. This material is based on work supported by the American Museum of Natural History’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Fund (to TML), and by the Department of Energy under Award Number DE-FC09-07SR22506 to the University of Georgia Research Foundation.

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Correspondence to Thomas M. Luhring.

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Communicated by Ross Andrew Alford.

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Luhring, T.M., Holdo, R.M. Trade-offs between growth and maturation: the cost of reproduction for surviving environmental extremes. Oecologia 178, 723–732 (2015).

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  • Body size
  • Life-history strategy
  • Reproductive allocation
  • Estivation
  • Drought
  • Size structure