Long-term research and hierarchical models reveal consistent fitness costs of being the last egg in a clutch

Cheyenne R. Acevedo, Thomas V. Riecke, Alan G. Leach, Madeleine G. Lohman, Perry J. Williams, James S. Sedinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Maintenance of phenotypic heterogeneity in the face of strong selection is an important component of evolutionary ecology, as are the consequences of such heterogeneity. Organisms may experience diminishing returns of increased reproductive allocation as clutch or litter size increases, affecting current and residual reproductive success. Given existing uncertainty regarding trade-offs between the quantity and quality of offspring, we sought to examine the potential for diminishing returns on increased reproductive allocation in a long-lived species of goose, with a particular emphasis on the effect of position in the laying sequence on offspring quality. To better understand the effects of maternal allocation on offspring survival and growth, we estimated the effects of egg size, timing of breeding, inter- and intra-annual variation, and position in the laying sequence on gosling survival and growth rates of black brant Branta bernicla nigricans breeding in western Alaska from 1987 to 2007. We found that gosling growth rates and survival decreased with position in the laying sequence, regardless of clutch size. Mean egg volume of the clutch a gosling originated from had a positive effect on gosling survival (β = 0.095, 95% CRI: 0.024, 0.165) and gosling growth rates (β = 0.626, 95% CRI: 0.469, 0.738). Gosling survival (β = −0.146, 95% CRI: −0.214, −0.079) and growth rates (β = −1.286, 95% CRI: −1.435, −1.132) were negatively related to hatching date. These findings indicate substantial heterogeneity in offspring quality associated with their position in the laying sequence. They also potentially suggest a trade-off mechanism for females whose total reproductive investment is governed by pre-breeding state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1978-1987
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • Branta bernicla nigricans
  • black brant
  • fitness
  • growth
  • lack clutch
  • life-history evolution
  • reproductive allocation
  • survival


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