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Keywords:

  • Clethrionomys glareolus;
  • immune response;
  • life history trade-offs;
  • litter size manipulation;
  • maternal effects

Summary

  • 1
    Allocation of reproductive effort between the number and size of offspring determines the immediate rearing environment for the growing young. As the number of offspring increases, the amount of parental investment per individual offspring decreases, and the quality of the rearing environment is expected to decrease. This may result in a lower quality of offspring reared in such conditions.
  • 2
    We studied the effects of the rearing environment on the quality of juvenile bank voles, Clethrionomys glareolus, with different initial body sizes at birth in a 2 × 2 factorial experiment. The rearing environment was manipulated by enlarging both the litter size by two extra pups, and mean offspring body size at birth by replacing the original litter with heavier pups from smaller litters. Offspring quality was estimated from body size measurements, parasitic infection with Eimeria spp. and the level of immune response to a novel antigen.
  • 3
    The analyses revealed that large body size at birth was an advantage in ‘normal’ rearing environments, but a disadvantage in poor ones. The initially normal sized offspring grown in enlarged litters had a relatively good capacity for growth and high immune function confirming that a poor rearing environment alone does not reduce their quality.
  • 4
    Our findings that the benefits of large body size depend on the rearing environment suggest that offspring body size is adjusted in relation to litter size, and thus the evolution of these two traits is combined.