Maternal Natal Environment and Breeding Territory Predict the Condition and Sex Ratio of Offspring


Females in a variety of taxa adjust offspring sex ratios to prevailing ecological conditions. However, little is known about whether conditions experienced during a female’s early ontogeny influence the sex ratio of her offspring. We tested for past and present ecological predictors of offspring sex ratios among known-age females that were produced as offspring and bred as adults in a population of house wrens. The body condition of offspring that a female produced and the proportion of her offspring that were male were negatively correlated with the size of the brood in which she herself was reared. The proportion of sons within broods was negatively correlated with maternal hatching date, and varied positively with the quality of a female’s current breeding territory as predicted. However, females producing relatively more sons than daughters were less likely to return to breed in the population the following year. Although correlative, our results suggest that the rearing environment can have enduring effects on later maternal investment and sex allocation. Moreover, the overproduction of sons relative to daughters may increase costs to a female’s residual reproductive value, constraining the extent to which sons might be produced in high-quality breeding conditions. Sex allocation in birds remains a contentious subject, largely because effects on offspring sex ratios are small. Our results suggest that offspring sex ratios are shaped by various processes and trade-offs that act throughout the female life history and ultimately reduce the extent of sex-ratio adjustment relative to classic theoretical predictions.

Publication Title

Evolutionary Biology