Maternal size and age shape offspring size in a live-bearing fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni.

Holly K. Kindsvater, Gil G. Rosenthal, Suzanne H. Alonzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Many studies of offspring size focus on differences in maternal investment that arise from ecological factors such as predation or competition. Classic theory predicts that these ecological factors will select for an optimal offspring size, and therefore that variation in a given environment will be minimized. Yet recent evidence suggests maternal traits such as size or age could also drive meaningful variation in offspring size. The generality of this pattern is unclear, as some studies suggest that it may represent non-adaptive variation or be an artifact of temporal or spatial differences in maternal environments. To clarify this pattern, we asked how maternal size, age and condition are related to each other in several populations of the swordtail Xiphophorus birchmanni. We then determined how these traits are related to offspring size, and whether they could resolve unexplained intra-population variation in this trait. We found that female size, age, and condition are correlated within populations; at some of these sites, older, larger females produce larger offspring than do younger females. The pattern was robust to differences among most, but not all, sites. Our results document a pattern that is consistent with recent theory predicting adaptive age- and size-dependence in maternal investment. Further work is needed to rule out non-adaptive explanations for this variation. Our results suggest that female size and age could play an under-appreciated role in population growth and evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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