The physiological costs of reproduction in small mammals

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553 Citations (Scopus)


Life-history trade-offs between components of fitness arise because reproduction entails both gains and costs. Costs of reproduction can be divided into ecological and physiological costs. The latter have been rarely studied yet are probably a dominant component of the effect. A deeper understanding of life-history evolution will only come about once these physiological costs are better understood. Physiological costs may be direct or indirect. Direct costs include the energy and nutrient demands of the reproductive event, and the morphological changes that are necessary to facilitate achieving these demands. Indirect costs may be optional 'compensatory costs' whereby the animal chooses to reduce investment in some other aspect of its physiology to maximize the input of resource to reproduction. Such costs may be distinguished from consequential costs that are an inescapable consequence of the reproductive event. In small mammals, the direct costs of reproduction involve increased energy, protein and calcium demands during pregnancy, but most particularly during lactation. Organ remodelling is necessary to achieve the high demands of lactation and involves growth of the alimentary tract and associated organs such as the liver and pancreas. Compensatory indirect costs include reductions in thermogenesis, immune function and physical activity. Obligatory consequential costs include hyperthermia, bone loss, disruption of sleep patterns and oxidative stress. This is unlikely to be a complete list. Our knowledge of these physiological costs is currently at best described as rudimentary. For some, we do not even know whether they are compensatory or obligatory. For almost all of them, we have no idea of exact mechanisms or how these costs translate into fitness trade-offs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-398
Number of pages24
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological sciences
Issue number1490
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2008


  • energy
  • protein
  • calcium
  • pregnancy
  • lactation
  • life-history
  • brown adipose-tissue
  • bats eptesicus-fuscus
  • mother-young contact
  • basal metabolic-rate
  • long-eared bats
  • dwarf hamster phodopus
  • mice acomys-cahirinus
  • rat maternal skeleton
  • mite spinturnix-myoti
  • bone-mineral density


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