Birth dates vary with fixed and dynamic maternal features, offspring sex, and extreme climatic events in a high-latitude marine mammal
Rotella, Jay J.
Paterson, J. Terrill
Garrott, Robert A.
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Reproductive synchrony tends to be widespread in diverse species of plants and animals, especially at higher latitudes. However, for long-lived mammals, birth dates for different individuals can vary by weeks within a population. A mother\'s birth timing can reveal useful information about her reproductive abilities and have important implications for the characteristics and survival of her offspring. Despite this, our current knowledge of factors associated with variation in birth dates is modest. We used long-term data for known-age Weddell seals in Antarctica and a Bayesian hierarchical modeling approach to study how birth dates varied with fixed and temporally varying features of mothers, whether sex allocation varied with birth timing, and annual variation in birth dates. Based on birth dates for 4465 pups born to 1117 mothers aged 4-31, we found that diverse features of mothers were associated with variation in birth dates. Maternal identity was the most important among these. Unlike most studies, which have reported that birth dates occur earlier as mothers age, we found that birth dates progressively occurred earlier in the year in the early part of a mother\'s reproductive life, reached a minimum at age 16, and then occurred later at later ages. Birth dates were positively related to a mother\'s age at primiparity and recent reproductive effort. The earliest birth dates were for pups born to prime-age mothers who did not reproduce in the previous year but began reproduction early in life, suggesting that females in the best condition gave birth earlier than others. If so, our finding that male pups tended to be born earlier than females provides support for the Trivers-Willard sex-allocation model. Average birth dates were quite consistent across years, except for 2 years that had notable delays and occurred during the period when massive icebergs were present and disrupted the ecosystem.
Rotella, Jay J., J. Terrill Paterson, and Robert A. Garrott. "Birth dates vary with fixed and dynamic maternal features, offspring sex, and extreme climatic events in a high-latitude marine mammal." Ecology and Evolution 6, no. 7 (February 2016): 1930-1941. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1985 .