Costs of reproduction in the wild: Path analysis of natural selection and experimental tests of causation

Barry Sinervo, Dale F. Denardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


During 1991 through 1994, natural selection on reproductive effort in side-blotched lizards was indexed by measuring total clutch mass produced on the first clutch of the reproductive season and assessing how such effort in current reproduction affects subsequent survival and clutch production. In addition, selection was also experimentally assessed in free- ranging female side blotched lizards by (1) surgically decreasing total clutch mass (direct ovarian manipulation) and enhancing clutch mass using (2) exogenous gonadotropin, and (3) exogenous corticosterone. Surgical reduction of clutch mass uniformly enhanced survival. However, increasing clutch mass had more complex effects depending on year. Experimentally enhanced clutch mass enhanced survival in 1991, had no effect on survival in 1992, and decreased survival in 1993. Despite the complexity of these experimental results, they are corroborated by our comparative data. It is important to note that local environmental effects can obscure detection of costs arising from natural variation in reproductive effort, and we removed such effects using path analysis. The striking shift in natural selection favoring females laying a large clutch mass (1991) to selection against females laying a large clutch mass (1993) is associated with an end of a severe multiyear drought. Our natural-history observations suggest that the correlated increase in predatory snake activity on our study site, coincident with the end of the drought, is the agent of natural selection. Although the actual agents of selection (e.g., snake predation versus drought-related effects) are not resolved, the patterns of natural selection measured in our comparative and experimental data are also consistent with year-to-year changes in clutch mass and egg size that would be indicative of rapid short-term evolution in these traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1299-1313
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Corticosterone
  • costs of reproduction
  • gonadotropin
  • natural selection
  • ovarian manipulation
  • trade-offs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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