Recent discussion in the life-history literature has examined “adaptive maternal effects,” defined as maternal effects that benefit offspring, and concluded that this definition is too narrow, because maternal effects may not always benefit current offspring fitness, but can still be adaptive to female lifetime reproductive success. The “maternal manipulation hypothesis” suggests that females modify their physiology and behavior when gravid to increase offspring fitness, an example of adaptive maternal effects in the narrow sense. The maternal manipulation hypothesis has been tested almost exclusively using studies of reptiles, especially viviparous species. We argue that interpretations of modifications of female reptile behavior and physiology while gravid are hampered by the maternal manipulation hypothesis' exclusive focus on offspring fitness. We suggest broadening the approach of such studies to attempt to determine whether behaviors benefit fitness of the current batch of offspring, or benefit female lifetime reproductive success, or both. Using this approach, researchers acknowledge that females may modify physiology and behavior when gravid to benefit their own lifetime reproductive success, which may, or may not, also enhance fitness of the current batch of offspring. We recommend tests of benefits in reptiles to include the idea that females may increase their lifetime reproductive success by engaging in specific behaviors while gravid, independent of (or in addition to) benefits to offspring. We conclude that a broader view of maternal effects, less focused on offspring fitness and including both mothers and offspring, is the way forward for understanding maternal effects.
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Vol. 68 • No. 2