Maternal allocation and offspring characteristics in Bison

TitleMaternal allocation and offspring characteristics in Bison
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsHamel, S, Craine, JM, Towne, EG
JournalEcological Applications
Pagination1628 -1639
Accession NumberKNZ001471

Parental allocation strategies are of profound interest in life history because they directly impact offspring fitness and therefore are highly valuable for understanding population dynamics and informing management decisions. Yet, numerous questions about reproductive allocation patterns for wild populations of large mammals remain unanswered because of the challenges for measuring allocation in the wild. Using a nine-year longitudinal data set on life-history traits of mother–calf bison pairs, we identified sources of variation in relative maternal allocation (calf mass ratio on mother mass) and assessed the occurrence of reproductive costs associated with differential maternal allocation. We found that heavy mothers provided a lower allocation but still produced heavier calves than light mothers. Older females produced lighter calves and tended to decrease allocation as they aged, supporting the occurrence of reproductive senescence. Mothers that had produced a calf the previous year produced lighter calves and allocated less than mothers that did not lactate the previous year, revealing reproductive costs. However, greater maternal allocation did not reduce the probability of breeding in successive years, and the amount of allocation provided by a mother was positively correlated among the offspring she produced, illustrating individual heterogeneity. Although life-history studies are usually classified as either supporting costs of reproduction or individual quality, our study demonstrates that these contrasting evolutionary forces can shape variation within a single trait. Our work illustrates that many processes can coevolve within a population, emphasizing the need to integrate multiple concepts to better understand the evolution of life-history traits. With regard to management of bison herds, if the goal of culling programs is to select for animals with the best performance, this research suggests that managers should account for the condition and previous reproductive status of mothers when taking culling decisions on juvenile bison.