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The evolution of different maternal investment strategies in two closely related desert vertebrates

June 13, 2017

We compared egg size phenotypes and tested several predictions from the optimal egg size (OES) and bet-hedging theories in two North American desert-dwelling sister tortoise taxa, Gopherus agassizii and G. morafkai, that inhabit different climate spaces: relatively unpredictable and more predictable climate spaces, respectively. Observed patterns in both species differed from the predictions of OES in several ways. Mean egg size increased with maternal body size in both species. Mean egg size was inversely related to clutch order in G. agassizii, a strategy more consistent with the within-generation hypothesis arising out of bet-hedging theory or a constraint in egg investment due to resource availability, and contrary to theories of density dependence, which posit that increasing hatchling competition from later season clutches should drive selection for larger eggs. We provide empirical evidence that one species, G. agassizii, employs a bet-hedging strategy that is a combination of two different bet-hedging hypotheses. Additionally, we found some evidence for G. morafkai employing a conservative bet-hedging strategy. (e.g., lack of intra- and interclutch variation in egg size relative to body size). Our novel adaptive hypothesis suggests the possibility that natural selection favors smaller offspring in late-season clutches because they experience a more benign environment or less energetically challenging environmental conditions (i.e., winter) than early clutch progeny, that emerge under harsher and more energetically challenging environmental conditions (i.e., summer). We also discuss alternative hypotheses of sexually antagonistic selection, which arise from the trade-offs of son versus daughter production that might have different optima depending on clutch order and variation in temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) among clutches. Resolution of these hypotheses will require long-term data on fitness of sons versus daughters as a function of incubation environment, data as yet unavailable for any species with TSD.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title The evolution of different maternal investment strategies in two closely related desert vertebrates
DOI 10.1002/ece3.2838
Authors Joshua R. Ennen, Jeffrey E. Lovich, Roy C. Averill-Murray, Charles B. Yackulic, Mickey Agha, Caleb Loughran, Laura A. Tennant, Barry Sinervo
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70188485
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center