Optimal offspring size in a small mammal: an exception to the tradeoff invariant life-history rule


  • Kristine Kasparian,

  • Edda Geißler,

  • Fritz Trillmich

K. Kasparian, E. Geißler and F. Trillmich, Dept of Animal Behavior, Univ. Bielefeld, Morgenbreede 45, DE-33615 Bielefeld, Germany (k_kasparian@hotmail.com).


Offspring size and number were examined in a captive population of wild guinea pigs (Cavia aperea), and findings were compared with models of optimal offspring size for small litters. Median and modal litter size was two, regardless of maternal size or parity. Females producing their second litter tended to have litters that were larger than average. In contrast, young females that were still growing never had litters that were larger than average. Mean offspring size decreased and variation in offspring size tended to decrease with increasing litter size. Optimal offspring size models, in which offspring survival depended on the amount of resources invested, as well as litter size, predict such a trend. Little support was found for Charnov and Downhower's (1995) tradeoff invariant life-history rule that the range in offspring sizes between litters is inversely proportional to the size of the litter. Cavia aperea may be an exception to this rule because pup mass at birth did not reflect total reproductive investment, because conversion of resources into litter mass may not be linearly related to litter size and because resources were not equally partitioned among offspring within large litters. Experimental data are needed to determine the relevance of these results among mammals in general.