Research ArticleZOOLOGY

A shortage of males causes female reproductive failure in yellow ground squirrels

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Science Advances  02 Oct 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 9, e1500401
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500401

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Sexual conflict theory suggests that female breeding success is strongly influenced by individual life history and environmental conditions and is much less affected by mate availability. Female mating failure due to a shortage of males remains poorly studied and understood. We present data on the effects of male availability on female breeding success in a wild colony of yellow ground squirrels (Spermophilus fulvus). A female’s probability of breeding increased with the local density of males and was higher with higher male-biased operational sex ratio (OSR) but was independent of local female density, female age, and body condition, which are factors commonly assumed to influence female reproduction. The positive effect of male availability (as measured by OSR) on female breeding success was consistent across the years, and we conclude that male limitation contributes to female mating failure. This pattern, which is not commonly recorded in species with conventional sex roles, can be explained by a combination of sociodemographic and life history traits (sex differences in age of maturation, female-skewed adult sex ratio and seasonally varying OSR, solitary living at low population density, and low mobility of females combined with mate-searching tactics of males) that are not confined to S. fulvus. Our findings indicate that the role of female mating failure (due to a shortage of males) in shaping mammalian life history may be underestimated.

  • female reproduction
  • reproductive failure
  • male availability
  • operational sex ratio
  • ground squirrels

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