In a fascinating new study forthcoming from The Quarterly Review of Biology, biologists from the University of Oxford explore a rare tactic employed by females badgers to maximize their reproductive success. The authors argue that conception during pregnancy, known as superfetation, benefits female reproductive fitness by reducing the risk of infanticide, extending the females window of opportunity for conception, and increasing the genetic diversity of the litter.
"Natural selection and sexual selection act on both sexes. However, emphasis on sexual selection as a direct evolutionary force acting on males has diverted attention away from the selective process acting on females, whose discrete mating tactics may have masked the extent of reproductive conflict between the sexes," write Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, Hannah L. Dugdale, and David W. Macdonald, all of the Wildlife Conservation Unit at the University of Oxford.
One of only two known species that exhibit or are presumed to exhibit both superfetation and embryonic diapause – during which the newly fertilized egg temporarily ceases development and remains free in the uterus cavity instead of implanting directly into the uterus – the female European badger first ovulates and is fertilized in late winter-early spring (January-March). However, implantation does not occur until December or January of the following year, a gestation period of nearly eleven months.
Suzanne Wu | EurekAlert!
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