Maternal longevity and offspring sex in wild ungulates

Mathieu Douhard, Marco Festa-bianchet, Sandra Hamel, Daniel H. Nussey, Steeve D. Côté, Josephine M. Pemberton, Fanie Pelletier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In species with sexual size dimorphism, the offspring of the larger sexusually have greater energy requirements and may lead to greater fitness costs for parents. The effects of offspring sex on maternal longevity, however, have only been tested in humans. Human studies produced mixed results and considerable debate mainly owing to the difficulty of distinguishing the effects of sexual dimorphism from sociocultural factors. To advance this debate, we examined how the relative number of sons influenced maternal longevity in four species of free-living ungulates (Soay sheep Ovis aries; bighorn sheep, Ovis canadensis; red deer, Cervus elaphus; mountain goat, Oreamnos americanus), with high male-biased sexual size dimorphism but without complicating sociocultural variables. We found no evidence for a higher cumulative cost of sons than of daughters on maternal longevity. For a given number of offspring, most females with many sons in all four populations lived longer than females with few sons. The higher cost of sons over daughters on maternal lifespan reported by some human studies may be the exception rather than the rule in long-lived iteroparous species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20181968
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1896
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2019


  • cost of reproduction
  • disposable soma
  • lifespan
  • mammals
  • sex ratio
  • trade offs


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