One size fits all: Eurasian lynx females share a common optimal litter size



  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.