Alternative reproductive tactics in female striped mice: heavier females are more likely to breed solitary than communally
1.Alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs) are discrete reproductive phenotypes governed by decision-rules called strategies. ARTs are fixed for life in species with alternative strategies, while tactic expression is plastic in species with a single strategy. ARTs have been investigated in males of many species, but few studies have tested whether the same theoretical framework applies in females. 2.Female striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) employ three ARTs: communal breeders give birth in a nest shared with female kin and a breeding male, and show allo-parental care; returners give birth away from the shared nest and later return to it; and solitary breeders give birth away from the shared nest and do not return to the group. 3.Here, studying free-living female striped mice over six breeding seasons, we tested whether ARTs arise from alternative strategies or a single strategy. 4.We also asked to what extent stochastic extrinsic factors explain whether individuals become solitary rather than group-living. 5.Females switched tactics, consistent with a single strategy, so we tested whether this represented a mixed or conditional single strategy. Only the latter predicts differences between ARTs in traits indicating competitive ability, such as body mass or age, before individuals adopt a tactic. We weighed females at conception when they were still group-living to eliminate potential confounding effects of gestation and subsequent social tactic (solitary- versus group-living) on body mass. 6.Females that went on to use a solitary ART were heavier than those that became communal breeders and returners, in support of a conditional strategy. 7.Solitary breeders also arose through extrinsic factors (mortality of all adult female group members). They weighed less than females that became solitary while relatives were alive, but did not differ in body mass from communal breeders and returners. 8.We conclude that ART theory applies to both sexes, with female striped mice following a conditional single strategy. Future studies should consider the possibility that phenotypes that superficially resemble evolved tactics might also arise through non-adaptive extrinsic causes.
Journal Title/Title of Proceedings
Journal of Animal Ecology