One of the main tenets of modern life-history theory is the negative relationship (trade-off) between the number and quality of offspring produced. Theory predicts a negative genetic correlation between these traits since both are closely related to fitness of individuals. However, the genetic basis of the trade-off has only been tested to a limited extent in natural populations. We examined whether size and quality of offspring are negatively related to litter size in the bank vole Clethrionomys glareolus. First, we found a significant negative phenotypic correlation between the number and size of offspring at birth in both laboratory and field populations of the bank vole. Second, a larger size at birth decreased the maturation age of female offspring in the laboratory, and increased the probability of breeding and the size of the first litter in the field. Furthermore, manipulation of offspring size at weaning indicated that structural effects of birth size in mammals have a more profound effect on the expression of life-history traits than weaning size. Finally, in addition to the phenotypic negative correlation between the number and size of offspring, we found evidence for a negative genetic correlation between these two traits, which confirms the genetic basis of the trade-off. This negative genetic covariation may have considerable effects on the rate and direction of evolution of the two related life-historical traits.
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Vol. 58 • No. 3