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Cohort variation in individual body mass dissipates with age in large herbivores

Hamel S, Gaillard J, Yoccoz N, Albon S, Cote SD, Craine JM, Festa-Bianchet M, Garel M, Lee PC, Moss CJ, Nussey DH, Pelletier F, Stien A & Tveraa T (2016) Cohort variation in individual body mass dissipates with age in large herbivores, Ecological Monographs, 86 (4), pp. 517-543.

Environmental conditions experienced during early growth and development markedly shape phenotypic traits. Consequently, individuals of the same cohort may show similar life-history tactics throughout life. Conditions experienced later in life, however, could fine-tune these initial differences, either increasing (cumulative effect) or decreasing (compensatory effect) the magnitude of cohort variation with increasing age. Our novel comparative analysis that quantifies cohort variation in individual body size trajectories shows that initial cohort variation dissipates throughout life, and that lifetime patterns change both across species with different paces of life and between sexes. We used longitudinal data on body size (mostly assessed using mass) from 11 populations of large herbivores spread along the “slow-fast” continuum of life histories. We first quantified cohort variation using mixture models to identify clusters of cohorts with similar initial size. We identified clear cohort clusters in all species except the one with the slowest pace of life, revealing that variation in early size is structured among cohorts and highlighting typological differences among cohorts. Growth trajectories differed among cohort clusters, highlighting how early size is a fundamental determinant of lifetime growth patterns. In all species, among-cohort variation in size peaked at the start of life, then quickly decreased with age and stabilized around mid-life. Cohort variation was lower in species with a slower than a faster pace of life, and vanished at prime age in species with the slowest pace of life. After accounting for viability selection, compensatory/catch-up growth in early life explained much of the decrease in cohort variation. Females showed less phenotypic variability and stronger compensatory/catch-up growth than males early in life, whereas males showed more progressive changes throughout life. These results confirm that stronger selective pressures for rapid growth make males more vulnerable to poor environmental conditions early in life and less able to recover after a poor start. Our comparative analysis illustrates how variability in growth changes over time in closely related species that span a wide range on the “slow-fast” continuum, the main axis of variation in life-history strategies of vertebrates.

Compensatory growth; catch-up growth; cumulative effects; cohort, life-history tactics; mixture models; ungulates; sexual selection; “slow-fast” continuum; viability selection

AuthorsHamel Sandra, Gaillard Jean-Michel, Yoccoz Nigel, Albon Steve, Cote Steeve D, Craine Joseph M, Festa-Bianchet Marco, Garel Mathieu, Lee Phyllis C, Moss Cynthia J, Nussey Daniel H, Pelletier Fanie, Stien Audun, Tveraa Torkild
Publication date11/2016
Publication date online01/11/2016
Date accepted by journal12/07/2016
PublisherWiley-Blackwell for Ecological Society of America
ISSN 0012-9615

Ecological Monographs: Volume 86, Issue 4

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