According to a well-known theory in evolutionary biology healthy females should give birth to more males than females. A study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation shows why this is not always true.
According to popular belief, whether you have a baby girl or boy is purely a matter of chance. And yet, a study published several years ago shows that mothers in stressful jobs, for instance, give birth to more girls than boys.
The correlation between such shifts in the offspring sex ratio and the mother’s overall state is something that evolutionary biologists are familiar with from other animal species. One influential hypothesis puts natural selection as an explanation for the imbalances observed.
Strong males with high reproductive success
The Trivers-Willard hypothesis states that it is beneficial for mothers to be able to adjust the sex of their offspring in response to their own state of health. Accordingly, a female in good condition should give birth to more male offspring.
This is because successful males have the potential to produce more children in their lifetime than successful females. By producing strong sons, healthy mothers increase the probability of their own genes being widely distributed. Conversely, low-ranking females who are not in such good shape are more likely to produce daughters, because the chances of giving birth to a future dominant male are poor.
“However, it’s not quite as simple as that,” points out biologist Peter Neuhaus sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation, based at the University of Calgary in Canada. Taking the example of a model with data from Columbian ground squirrels and Canadian bighorn sheep, Neuhaus – together with colleagues from the UK, the US, France and South Africa – has demonstrated in an article published in Nature magazine that optimal reproduction also depends on a series of other factors.
Dead before reaching sexual maturity
Bighorn ewes, for instance, give birth to only one lamb a year. Most females mate with the dominant ram, which means many of the other males don’t get a chance. Females in a good state often pass on their condition and so can be expected to “to make supermales”, as Neuhaus explains.
Nonetheless, the healthy females do not produce more male than female offspring. As the model demonstrates, other parameters, such as the fact that a large number of males die before reaching sexual maturity, play a central role in assessing reproductive potential.
But what have sheep got to do with mothers in jobs with some degree of stress? Nobody doubts that they have more girls, but Neuhaus advises caution: “Evolution is very complex. To understand how it works, you need to take into account as many factors as possible that could influence reproductive potential.”
(*) S. Schindler, J.-M. Gaillard, A. Grüning, P. Neuhaus, L. W. Traill, S. Tuljapurkar & T. Coulson (2015). Sex-specific demography and generalisation of Trivers-Willard theory. Nature online: doi:10.1038/nature14968
(Available for journalists as a PDF file from the SNSF: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Prof. Peter Neuhaus
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary
Calgary, AB, T2N 1N4, Canada
Tel.: +1 403 220 8776
Time difference: -8 hours
Dr. Susanne Schindler
Institut für Evolutionsbiologie und Umweltwissenschaften
Tel.: +41 76 295 36 85
Medien - Abteilung Kommunikation | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Colorectal cancer: Increased life expectancy thanks to individualised therapies
20.02.2020 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Sweet beaks: What Galapagos finches and marine bacteria have in common
20.02.2020 | Max-Planck-Institut für Marine Mikrobiologie
The operational speed of semiconductors in various electronic and optoelectronic devices is limited to several gigahertz (a billion oscillations per second). This constrains the upper limit of the operational speed of computing. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg, Germany, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay have explained how these processes can be sped up through the use of light waves and defected solid materials.
Light waves perform several hundred trillion oscillations per second. Hence, it is natural to envision employing light oscillations to drive the electronic...
Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.
Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...
Investigation of the temperature dependence of the skyrmion Hall effect reveals further insights into possible new data storage devices
The joint research project of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that had previously demonstrated...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently completed a 5-year research project looking at how to make fibre optic communications systems more energy efficient. Among their proposals are smart, error-correcting data chip circuits, which they refined to be 10 times less energy consumptive. The project has yielded several scientific articles, in publications including Nature Communications.
Streaming films and music, scrolling through social media, and using cloud-based storage services are everyday activities now.
After helping develop a new approach for organic synthesis -- carbon-hydrogen functionalization -- scientists at Emory University are now showing how this approach may apply to drug discovery. Nature Catalysis published their most recent work -- a streamlined process for making a three-dimensional scaffold of keen interest to the pharmaceutical industry.
"Our tools open up whole new chemical space for potential drug targets," says Huw Davies, Emory professor of organic chemistry and senior author of the paper.
12.02.2020 | Event News
16.01.2020 | Event News
15.01.2020 | Event News
21.02.2020 | Medical Engineering
21.02.2020 | Health and Medicine
21.02.2020 | Physics and Astronomy