Thermal conditions during early life influence seasonal maternal strategies in the three-spined stickleback

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Background: Conditions experienced by a female during early life may affect her reproductive strategies and maternal investment later in life. This effect of early environmental conditions is a potentially important mechanism by which animals can compensate for the negative impacts of climate change. In this study, we experimentally tested whether three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) change their maternal strategy according to environmental temperatures experienced earlier in life. We studied maternal investment from a life-history perspective because females are expected to adjust their reproductive strategy in relation to their current and future reproductive returns as well as offspring fitness. Results: F1 families were reared in control and elevated winter temperatures and their reproductive trajectories were studied when returned to common conditions. Females that had experienced the warm winter treatment (n = 141) had a lower fecundity and reduced breeding and total lifespan compared to the control individuals (n = 159). Whereas the control females tended to produce their heaviest and largest clutches in their first reproductive attempt, the warm-acclimated females invested less in their first clutch, but then produced increasingly heavy clutches over the course of the breeding season. Egg mass increased with clutch number at a similar rate in the two groups. The warm-acclimated females increased the investment of carotenoids in the first and last clutches of the season. Thus, any transgenerational effects of the maternal thermal environment on offspring phenotype may be mediated by the allocation of antioxidants into eggs but not by egg size. Conclusions: Our results indicate that conditions experienced by females during juvenile life have a profound effect on life-time maternal reproductive strategies. The temperature-induced changes in maternal strategy may be due to constraints imposed by the higher energetic costs of a warm environment, but it is possible that they allow the offspring to compensate for higher energetic costs and damage when they face the same thermal stress as did their mothers.




Kim, S. Y., Metcalfe, N. B., da Silva, A., & Velando, A. (2017). Thermal conditions during early life influence seasonal maternal strategies in the three-spined stickleback. BMC Ecology, 17(1).

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