Intergenerational response to sperm competition risk in an invasive mammal

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Studies of socially mediated phenotypic plasticity have demonstrated adaptive male responses to the 'competitive' environment. Despite this, whether variation in the paternal social environment also influences offspring reproductive potential in an intergenerational context has not yet been examined. Here, we studied the descendants of wild-caught house mice, a destructive pest species worldwide, to address this knowledge gap. We analysed traits that define a 'competitive' phenotype in the sons of males (sires) that had been exposed to either a high-male density (competitive) or high-female density (non-competitive) environment. We report disparate reproductive strategies among the sires: high-male density led to a phenotype geared for competition, while high-female density led to a phenotype that would facilitate elevated mating frequency. Moreover, we found that the competitive responses of sires persisted in the subsequent generation, with the sons of males reared under competition having elevated sperm quality. As all sons were reared under common-garden conditions, variation in their reproductive phenotypes could only have arisen via nongenetic inheritance. We discuss our results in relation to the adaptive advantage of preparing sons for sperm competition and suggest that intergenerational plasticity is a previously unconsidered aspect in invasive mammal fertility control.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20222452
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1997
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2023


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