One size fits all: Eurasian lynx females share a common optimal litter size
- Lack proposed that the average clutch size of altricial species should be determined by the average maximum number of young the parents can raise such that all females in a given population should share a common optimal clutch size. Support for this model remains equivocal and recent studies have suggested that intra-population variation in clutch size is adaptive because each female has its own optimal clutch size associated with its intrinsic ability to raise offspring.
- Although Lack litter size and condition-dependent litter size are presented as two competing models, both are based on the concept of individual optimization. We propose a unified optimal litter size model (called ‘adaptive litter size’) and identify a set of conditions under which a common vs. a state-dependent optimal litter size should be observed.
- We test whether females of Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) have a common optimal litter size, or whether they adjust their litter size according to their state. We used a detailed individual-based data set collected from contrasting populations of Eurasian lynx in Scandinavia.
- Observed reproductive patterns in female lynx provide strong support for the existence of a common optimal litter size. Litter size did not vary according to female body mass or reproductive category, or among contrasted populations and years. A litter size of 2 was associated with a higher fitness than both smaller and larger litters, and thus corresponded to the ‘adaptive litter size’ for female lynx.
- We suggest that the reproductive pattern of female lynx might correspond to a risk avoidance tactic common to all individuals, which has evolved in response to strong environmental constraints generated by a highly unpredictable food supply during lactation.