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Reproductive Decisions in Female European Ground Squirrels: Factors Affecting Reproductive Output and Maternal Investment


Corresponding author: E. Millesi, Institut für Zoologie, Universität Wien, Althanstrasse 14, A−1090 Vienna, Austria. E-mail:


Physiological and behavioural parameters associated with reproductive effort and success were investigated in female European ground squirrels Spermophilus citellus. The proportion of reproductive (lactating) females in the study population was over 90% and was not related to age. Timing of oestrus and ovulation was found to be affected by the female’s emergence date and condition. Females with low emergence mass showed delayed oestrus. Differences in ovulation dates were shown to affect reproductive output in terms of litter size and sex ratio. Early litters were larger and male biased. X-ray techniques were used to determine intrauterine litter size in individual females. The results indicated that litter size and sex ratio were fixed prenatally. Lactation costs were reflected in the intensity of mass loss and duration of lactation. Mass loss varied with litter size, in that females with large litters showed a more rapid loss than others. The second parental investment parameter, lactation duration, varied among individual females and was dependent on the timing of reproduction and litter size (except yearlings). Early born litters, which were, in most cases, larger than later ones, were nursed longer. Prolonged lactation periods affected female condition in that they started prehibernation fattening later and entered hibernation with a lower mass than individuals that had shorter lactation periods. Yearling females probably could not afford the energetic costs of long lactation, independent of their offspring number. These results indicated that females with higher reproductive output and higher investment were unable to compensate these costs before hibernation. Consequences for these individuals could therefore be lower over-winter survival or a delayed oestrus in the following season.