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Size delays female senescence in a medium sized marsupial: The effects of maternal traits on annual fecundity in the northern brown bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus)



The degree to which females allocate resources between current reproduction, future fecundity and survival is a central theme in life history theory. We investigated two hypotheses proposed to explain patterns of reproductive investment, terminal investment and senescence, by examining the effects of maternal traits (age and maternal mass) on annual fecundity in female northern brown bandicoots, Isoodon macrourus (Marsupialia: Peramelidae). We found that annual fecundity in females declined in their final year of reproduction, indicating reproductive senescence. Maternal mass significantly influenced the rate of senescence and, in turn, a female's lifetime reproductive output. Mass had little effect on fecundity in 1st and 2nd year females, but a positive relationship with fecundity in 3rd year females. This meant that heavy, 3rd year females did not suffer the decline in fecundity shown in light 3rd year females. For 1st year females, mass and leg length increased between their first and second reproductive seasons, indicating a temporary shift, from the allocation of resources to reproduction, to increasing condition or structural size post their first breeding event. There were no net changes to body mass in subsequent years. We suggest that this year of post-reproductive growth has important consequences for senescent effects on reproduction. Overall, results provided support for the effects of senescence on annual fecundity. Our findings were not consistent with the terminal investment hypothesis; reproductive output did not increase in females' final reproductive season despite a rapid decline in survival. However, this notion cannot be entirely dismissed; other measures of reproductive performance not examined here (e.g. offspring mass) may have provided an indication that females did increase their effort at the end of their lifespan. This study highlights the difficulty of measuring reproductive costs and the importance of understanding the combined effects of specific characteristics of an individual when interpreting reproductive strategies in iteroparous organisms.