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Fitness correlates of age at primiparity in a hunted moose population


Trade-offs between fitness-related traits are predicted from the principle of resource allocation, where increased fecundity or parental investment leads to reduced future reproduction or survival. However, fitness traits can also be positively correlated due to individual differences (e.g. body mass). Age at primiparity could potentially explain variation in individual fitness either because early primiparity is costly, or it may lead to higher lifetime reproductive success. Based on long-term monitoring and genetic parentage assignment of an island population of moose, we quantified reproductive performance and survival, and examined whether early maturing females have higher total calf production than late maturing females. We explored if harvesting of calves affected the subsequent reproductive success of their mothers, i.e. also due to a post-weaning cost of reproduction, and whether there are any intergenerational effects of female reproductive success. There was a positive relationship between current and future reproduction. The probability to reproduce was lower for females that were unsuccessful the year before, indicating a strong quality effect on productivity. Females that started to reproduce as 2-year olds had a slightly higher total calf production compared to those starting at age three or four. High-performing mothers were also correlated with daughters that performed well in terms of reproductive success. Our results suggest that the observed individual heterogeneity in fitness could be associated with differences in age at primiparity. This heterogeneity was not affected by reproductive costs associated with tending for a calf post-weaning.

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We are grateful to the local moose hunters and managers for cooperation in collecting data. This study was supported by the European Research Council (ERC-2010-AdG 268562), the Research Council of Norway (SFF-III 223257/F50 and project number 244647) and the Norwegian Environment Agency.

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SSM, AL and BES developed the concept and idea. HH performed genetic analyses and constructed the pedigree in collaboration with KHR. Statistical analyses were performed by SSM with input from AL, IH, EJS and BES. MH was in charge of the fieldwork, tissue sampling and the life history databases. SSM wrote the article with input from all co-authors.

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Correspondence to Stine S. Markussen.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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All applicable national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Communicated by Jean-Michel Gaillard.

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Markussen, S.S., Loison, A., Herfindal, I. et al. Fitness correlates of age at primiparity in a hunted moose population. Oecologia 186, 447–458 (2018).

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  • Age of maturity
  • Cost of reproduction
  • Individual heterogeneity
  • Life history
  • Ungulates