Density-dependent variation in lifetime breeding success and natural and sexual selection in Soay rams

D W Coltman, J A Smith, D R Bancroft, J Pilkington, A D C MacColl, T H Clutton-Brock, J M Pemberton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Variation in male lifetime breeding success (LBS) is central to understanding selection, yet it has rarely been measured in natural populations of large mammals. Here, we first describe variation in the opportunity for selection in cohorts of Soay rams (Ovis aries) on the archipelago of Sr. Kilda, Scotland, that were born during years of varying population density. Variation in LBS is closely coupled with demography, as rams born in years of low density following population crashes enjoy greater LBS than do those born in high-density years. Paradoxically the opportunity for selection was greatest in the largest cohorts, those born in years of high population density, owing to low juvenile breeding success and overwinter survival Variation in longevity and the contribution of nonbreeders were the most important components of the total variance in LBS in cohorts born in years of high density, while variation in fecundity was more important in cohorts born in low-density years. The opportunity for sexual selection is thus stronger in cohorts born in low-density years, as many rams in these cohorts survive to compete for mates as adults in subsequent ruts. Variation in population density in the year of birth also influenced the intensity of selection. individuals born in years of high population density underwent strong natural selection in favor of longer hindlimbs over their first winter. In contrast, in cohorts born in low-density years, there was no natural selection on hindlimb in the first year of life. Longer hindlimbs were associated with increased fecundity over the entire lifetime of individuals born in low-density years. Natural and sexual selection thus act on the same trait in the same direction at different life-history stages in Soay rams, depending on the population density experienced in the year of birth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)730-746
Number of pages17
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1999


Dive into the research topics of 'Density-dependent variation in lifetime breeding success and natural and sexual selection in Soay rams'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this