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Data from: Are sexually selected traits affected by a poor environment early in life?

Cite this dataset

Vega-Trejo, Regina; Jennions, Michael D.; Head, Megan L. (2016). Data from: Are sexually selected traits affected by a poor environment early in life? [Dataset]. Dryad.


Background: Challenging conditions experienced early in life, such as a restricted diet, can detrimentally affect key life-history traits. Individuals can reduce these costs by delaying their sexual maturation, albeit at the price of the later onset of breeding, to eventually reach the same adult size as individuals that grow up in a benevolent environment. Delayed maturation can, however, still lead to other detrimental morphological and physiological changes that become apparent later in adulthood (e.g. shorter lifespan, faster senescence). In general, research focuses on the naturally selected costs of a poor early diet. In mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), males with limited food intake early in life delay maturation to reach a similar adult body size to their well-fed counterparts (‘catch-up growth’). Here we tested whether a poor early diet is costly due to the reduced expression of sexually selected male characters, namely genital size and ejaculate traits. Results: We found that a male’s diet early in life significantly influenced his sperm reserves and sperm replenishment rate. Shortly after maturation males with a restricted early diet had significantly lower sperm reserves and slower replenishment rates than control diet males, but this dietary difference was no longer detectable in older males. Conclusions: Although delaying maturation to reach the same body size as well fed juveniles can ameliorate some costs of a poor start in life, our findings suggest that costs might still arise because of sexual selection against these males. It should be noted, however, that the observed effects are modest (Hedges’ g = 0.20–0.36), and the assumption that lower sperm production translates into a decline in fitness under sperm competition remains unconfirmed.

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