Experimentally decoupling reproductive investment from energy storage to test the functional basis of a life-history trade-off



  1. The ubiquitous life-history trade-off between reproduction and survival has long been hypothesized to reflect underlying energy-allocation trade-offs between reproductive investment and processes related to self-maintenance. Although recent work has questioned whether energy-allocation models provide sufficient explanations for the survival cost of reproduction, direct tests of this hypothesis are rare, especially in wild populations.
  2. This hypothesis was tested in a wild population of brown anole lizards (Anolis sagrei) using a two-step experiment. First, stepwise variation in reproductive investment was created using unilateral and bilateral ovariectomy (OVX) along with intact (SHAM) control. Next, this manipulation was decoupled from its downstream effects on energy storage by surgically ablating the abdominal fat stores from half of the females in each reproductive treatment.
  3. As predicted, unilateral OVX (intermediate reproductive investment) induced levels of growth, body condition, fat storage and breeding-season survival that were intermediate between the high levels of bilateral OVX (no reproductive investment) and the low levels of SHAM (full reproductive investment).
  4. Ablation of abdominal fat bodies had a strong and persistent effect on energy stores, but it did not influence post-breeding survival in any of the three reproductive treatments. This suggests that the energetic savings of reduced reproductive investment do not directly enhance post-breeding survival, with the caveat that only one aspect of energy storage was manipulated and OVX itself had no overall effect on post-breeding survival.
  5. This study supports the emerging view that simple energy-allocation models may often be insufficient as explanations for the life-history trade-off between reproduction and survival.