Litter size and fetal sex ratio adjustment in a highly polytocous species: the wild boar

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Abstract

For species in which reproductive success is more variable in one sex than the other, the Trivers and Willard model (TWM) predicts that females are able to adjust their offspring sex ratio. High-quality mothers should provide greater investment to one sex than the other. Previous tests of the TWM have been inconsistent, and whether the TWM applies to species with several offspring per litter is unclear due to possible trade-offs between size, number, and sex of the offspring. Williams' model (WM) accounts for confounding effects of these trade-offs on sex ratio variation. Lastly, the “extrinsic modification hypothesis” predicts changes in offspring sex ratio in relation to climatic conditions and population density. Using wild boar as a model, we tested 1) whether the WM fitted observed sex ratio variation and 2) whether sex ratio variations were related to maternal attributes (test of the TWM) and/or to resource availability (test of the extrinsic modification hypothesis). Females adjusted their litter size rather than their litter composition, so that the WM was not supported. Likewise, changes in resource availability did not influence the fetal sex ratio, so that the extrinsic modification hypothesis was not supported. The fetal sex ratio was negatively related to increasing litter size, providing some support for the TWM. Sex ratio was male biased for litter sizes up to 6 and then became female biased in larger litters. Our results provide the first case study showing marked changes in sex ratio in relation to litter size in a large mammal.

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