Limits to sustained energy intake XXVII: trade-offs between first and second litters in lactating mice support the ecological context hypothesis

Lobke Maria Vaanholt, Duah Agyeman Osei, Suzanna Balduci, Sharon Elizabeth Mitchell, Catherine Hambly, John Roger Speakman* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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5 Citations (Scopus)
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Increased reproductive effort may lead to trade-offs with future performance and impact offspring, thereby influencing optimal current effort level. We experimentally enlarged or reduced litter size in mice during their first lactation, and then followed them through a successive unmanipulated lactation. Measurements of food intake, body mass, milk energy output (MEO), litter size and litter mass were taken. Offspring from the first lactation were also bred to investigate their reproductive success. In their first lactation, mothers with enlarged litters (n=9, 16 pups) weaned significantly smaller pups, culled more pups, and increased MEO and food intake compared with mothers with reduced litters (n=9, 5 pups). In the second lactation, no significant differences in pup mass or litter size were observed between groups, but mothers that had previously reared enlarged litters significantly decreased pup mass, MEO and food intake compared with those that had reared reduced litters. Female offspring from enlarged litters weaned slightly smaller pups than those from reduced litters, but displayed no significant differences in any of the other variables measured. These results suggest that females with enlarged litters suffered from a greater energetic burden during their first lactation, and this was associated with lowered performance in a successive reproductive event and impacted on their offspring's reproductive performance. Female ‘choice’ about how much to invest in the first lactation may thus be driven by trade-offs with future reproductive success. Hence, the ‘limit’ on performance may not be a hard physiological limit. These data support the ecological context hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb170902
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number5
Early online date22 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Osei Duah Agemang was supported by a scholarship from the Cape University, Ghana. Lobke Maria Vaanholt was supported by a Rubicon grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).


  • milk energy output
  • fitness
  • reproductive success
  • lactation


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