Energetics and reproductive effort


  • Peter T. Ellison

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
    • Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138
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Natural selection favors the optimal allocation of energy and other limiting resources to reproduction. Human reproductive physiology displays characteristic patterns that can be viewed as mechanisms that help optimize reproductive effort in the face of environmental energetic constraints. Female ovarian function is particularly sensitive to energy balance and energy flux, resulting in a synchronization of conception with favorable energetic conditions. Reproductive effort during gestation is highly buffered from environmental energetic constraints, but the duration of gestation and final birthweight are both very sensitive to maternal energy availability. Milk production during lactation is relatively buffered from maternal energetic constraints as well, but the duration of lactational amenorrhea is sensitive to the relative metabolic load of lactation. Male gamete production is very insensitive to energetic constraints, but variation in testosterone production in response to both age and longer-lasting energetic conditions contributes to the modulation of somatic and behavioral aspects of male reproductive effort, aspects that are more energetically costly for a male. There is also new evidence that testosterone may also help to modulate the trade-off between male parenting and mating effort. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 15:342–351, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.