Litter characteristics of viviparous snakes presumably can be influenced by the mother's state (e.g., mass) at the onset of pregnancy, by food acquired during vitellogenesis, or by food eaten by the mother during pregnancy and delivered to the developing embryos via the placenta. Alternatively, food consumed while pregnant could be allocated to the female herself, potentially influencing her future survivorship and/or reproduction. We tested the effects of food consumption during pregnancy on litter traits of the garter snake, Thamnophis ordinoides, along with the effects of body size and age of mother. We also measured trade-offs between traits. Age was significantly correlated with body size of female snakes, but it had no direct influence on reproductive traits. Initial body size, by contrast, especially snout-vent length, significantly and positively influenced litter size and mass. Food intake by gravid females declined during pregnancy, and snakes became relatively anorexic prior to giving birth; their appetite resumed following parturition. Snakes offered smaller amounts of food while pregnant ate less than those fed ad lib, but had similar postpartum appetites. Higher food intake during pregnancy resulted in higher postpartum mass of females, but not higher litter mass or size of offspring. There was strong evidence of a trade-off between litter size and offspring size and between postpartum mass and litter mass. Overall, our data are consistent with the hypothesis that reproductive traits of viviparous snakes are determined proximately by previously accumulated stores (capital) and/or food consumed during vitellogenesis (income), but not by resources acquired during pregnancy.
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Vol. 12 • No. 2