Reproductive versus ecological advantages to larger body size in female snakes, Vipera aspis

Xavier Bonnet*, Guy Naulleau, Richard Shine, Olivier Lourdais

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Body size can influence an organism's microevolutionary fitness either via ecological factors (ecological selection) or changes in reproductive output (sexual or fecundity selection). Published studies on sexual dimorphism in reptiles have generally focussed on sexual-selective forces on males, under the implicit assumption that the intensity of fecundity selection in females (and hence, overall selection on female body size) is likely to be relatively consistent among lineages. In this paper, we explore the degree to which larger body size enhances ecological attributes (e.g., food intake, growth, survival) and reproductive output (reproductive frequency, litter size, offspring size, offspring viability) in free-ranging female aspic vipers, Vipera aspis. The less-than-annual reproductive frequency of these animals allows us to make a direct comparison between females in years during which they concentrate on 'ecological' challenges (especially building energy reserves) versus reproductive challenges (producing a litter). Because female snakes have limited abdominal space to hold the clutch (litter), we expect that fecundity should depend on body size. However, our data show that larger body size had a more consistent effect on ecological attributes (such as feeding rates and 'costs of reproduction') than on reproductive output per se. Indeed, total reproductive output was maximised at intermediate body sizes. These results suggest that variation in female body size among and within species (and hence, in the degree of sexual dimorphism) may be driven by the ecological as well as reproductive consequences of body size variation in both sexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-518
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2000
Externally publishedYes

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