Female red squirrels fit Williams’ hypothesis of increasing reproductive effort with increasing age

Authors

  • SÉBASTIEN DESCAMPS,

    1. Chaire de Recherche du Canada en Conservation des Écosystèmes Nordiques et Centre d’Études Nordiques, Université du Québec à Rimouski, 300 allée des Ursulines, Rimouski, Québec G5L3A1, Canada;
    2. Unité Mixte de Recherche 5558 ‘Biométrie et Biologie Évolutive’, Université Claude Bernard Lyon I, 43 boul. du 11 Novembre 1918, 69622 Villeurbanne Cedex, France; and
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  • STAN BOUTIN,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, CW405, Biological Sciences Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G2E9, Canada
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  • DOMINIQUE BERTEAUX,

    1. Chaire de Recherche du Canada en Conservation des Écosystèmes Nordiques et Centre d’Études Nordiques, Université du Québec à Rimouski, 300 allée des Ursulines, Rimouski, Québec G5L3A1, Canada;
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  • JEAN-MICHEL GAILLARD

    1. Unité Mixte de Recherche 5558 ‘Biométrie et Biologie Évolutive’, Université Claude Bernard Lyon I, 43 boul. du 11 Novembre 1918, 69622 Villeurbanne Cedex, France; and
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Chaire de Recherche du Canada en Conservation des Écosystèmes Nordiques, Université du Québec à Rimouski, 300 allée des Ursulines, Rimouski, Québec G5L 3A1, Canada. Tel.: 1 418 723 1986, ext. 1909. Fax: 1 418 724 1849. E-mail: dominique_berteaux@uqar.qc.ca

Summary

  • 1Williams predicted that reproductive effort should increase as individuals age and their reproductive value declines. This simple prediction has proven difficult to test because conventional measures of energy expenditure on reproduction may not be a true reflection of reproductive effort.
  • 2We investigated age-specific variation in female reproductive effort in a stable population of North American red squirrels where energy expenditure on reproduction is likely to reflect actual reproductive effort. We used seven measures of reproductive effort spanning conception to offspring weaning.
  • 3We found that females completed growth by age 3 and that reproductive value decreased after this age likely because of reproductive and survival senescence. We therefore, predicted that reproductive effort would increase from age 3 onwards.
  • 4The probability of breeding, litter mass at weaning, and likelihood of territory bequeathal were all lower for 1- and 2-year-old females than for females older than 3 years, the age at which growth is completed. That growing females are faced with additional energetic requirements might account for their lower allocation to reproduction as compared with older females.
  • 5The probability of attempting a second reproduction within the same breeding season and the propensity to bequeath the territory to juveniles increased from 3 years of age onwards, indicating an increase in reproductive effort with age. We think this increase in reproductive effort is an adaptive response of females to declining reproductive values when ageing, thereby supporting Williams’ prediction.

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