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Long‐term studies of bighorn sheep and mountain goats reveal fitness costs of reproduction

Festa‐Bianchet, Marco, Côté, Steeve D., Hamel, Sandra, Pelletier, Fanie
The journal of animal ecology 2019 v.88 no.8 pp. 1118-1133
Oreamnos americanus, Ovis canadensis, adults, daughters, evolution, fathers, fecundity, females, goats, juveniles, life history, males, monitoring, mothers, population dynamics, sons, Alberta
Fitness costs of reproduction are expected when resources are limited. Costs drive the evolution of life‐history strategies and can affect population dynamics if females change their allocation of resources to reproduction. We studied fitness costs of reproduction in mountain ungulates in Alberta, Canada. We monitored two populations of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) for 44 and 30 years, and one of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) for 30 years. Both species are highly iteroparous. Heterogeneity in individual reproductive potential makes fitness costs of reproduction difficult to detect and quantify without manipulations. In capital breeders, individual differences can be partly accounted for by considering body mass and other correlates of reproductive potential. Long‐term monitoring can reveal costs that only manifest under stressful conditions such as disease or resource scarcity. Despite individual differences in reproductive potential, we detected fitness costs of reproduction in females. Costs, in terms of mass gain and survival, are almost entirely born by subsequent offspring, as mothers prioritize their own maintenance and survival. Costs are greater for primiparous females, decrease with increasing body mass and increase as resource availability declines, and sons are costlier than daughters. Costs may increase for senescent females that appear to reduce allocation to reproduction. In bighorn sheep, costs mostly involve reduced mass gain and lower survival of subsequent offspring. In mountain goats, costs include reductions in mass gain, subsequent fecundity and juvenile survival. In males, fitness costs derive mostly from attempts to reproduce rather than from siring success and likely depend upon individual competitiveness. In the absence of selective harvests, dominant males may enjoy high fitness and possibly lower costs compared to subordinates. The conservative reproductive tactic of mountain ungulate females likely explains why density dependence mostly involves later primiparity and lower recruitment, but rarely affects adult survival. Future research will seek to better account for heterogeneity in reproductive potential, assess cumulative reproductive costs and investigate the potential effects of fathers on maternal allocation tactics.