The causes and consequences of variation in offspring size: a case study using Daphnia

M. A. Guinnee, A. Gardner, A. E. Howard, S. A. West, T. J. Little

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Offspring size can have large and direct fitness implications, but we still do not have a complete understanding of what causes offspring size to vary. Daphnia (water fleas) generally produce fewer and larger offspring when food is limited. Here, we use a mathematical model to show that this could be explained by either: (1) an advantage of producing larger eggs when food is limited; or (2) a lower boundary on egg volume (below which eggs do not have sufficient resources to be viable), that is similar in volume to the evolutionarily stable egg volume predicted by standard clutch size models. We tested the first possibilities experimentally by placing offspring from mothers kept at two food treatments (high and low - leading to relatively small and large eggs respectively) into two food treatments (same as maternal treatments, in a fully factorial design) and measuring their fitness (reproduction, age at maturity, and size at maturity). We also tested survival under starvation conditions of offspring produced from mothers at low and high food treatments. We found that (larger) offspring produced by low-food mothers actually had lower fitness as they took longer to reproduce, regardless of their current food treatment. Additionally, we found no survival advantage to being born of a food-stressed mother. Consequently, our results do not support the hypothesis that there is an advantage to producing larger eggs when food is limited. In contrast, data from the literature support the importance of a lower boundary on egg size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-587
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


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