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Climate-Induced Food Shortages and Mammalian Reproduction

Canale, C.I., Huchard, E., Perret, M. and Henry, P.-Y. 2012. Reproductive resilience to food shortage in a small heterothermic primate. PLoS ONE 7: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041477.
In introducing their study of this intriguing subject, Canale et al. (2012) say that "understanding whether, and to what extent, females can flexibly adjust their energetic investment to reproduction according to unpredicted food shortages is essential to predict whether organisms could compensate climate changes by plastic phenotype adjustments," citing Bronson (2009), Moreno and Moller (2011) and Wingfield et al. (2011). Against this backdrop, the three researchers "experimentally tested the consequences of chronic-moderate and short-acute food shortages on the reproductive output of a small seasonally breeding primate, the grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) under thermo-neutral conditions," where "two food treatments were respectively designed to simulate the energetic constraints imposed by a lean year (40% caloric restriction over eight months) or by a sudden, severe climatic event occurring shortly before reproduction (80% caloric restriction over a month)," during which time they "assessed the resilience of the early stages of reproduction (mating success, fertility, and gestation to these contrasted food treatments, and on the later stages (lactation and offspring growth) in response to the chronic food shortage only."

Results of the analysis indicated that "food deprived mouse lemurs managed to maintain constant ... reproductive parameters, including oestrus timing, estrogenization level at oestrus, mating success, litter size, and litter mass as well as their overall number of surviving offspring at weaning," although "offspring growth was delayed in food restricted mothers."

With respect to the significance of these findings, the three researchers say their results suggest that "heterothermic, fattening-prone mammals display important reproductive resilience to energetic bottlenecks," and that "more generally, species living in variable and unpredictable habitats may have evolved a flexible reproductive physiology that helps buffer environmental fluctuations."

Additional References
Bronson, F.H. 2009. Climate change and seasonal reproduction in mammals. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 364: 3331-3340.

Moreno, J. and Moller, A.P. 2011. Extreme climatic events in relation to global change and their impact on life histories. Current Zoology 57: 375-389.

Wingfield, J.C., Kelley, J.P. and Angelier, F. 2011. What are extreme environmental conditions and how do organisms cope with them? Current Zoology 57: 363-374.

Archived 11 September 2013