Dietary protein influences the life-history characteristics across generations in the African striped mouse Rhabdomys.
The level of dietary protein determines the onset of reproduction, affects offspring growth and maturation, and hence influences life-history traits and fitness. However, to date, the long-term life-history consequences of protein deficiency are not well understood. We studied the transgenerational effects of different levels of dietary protein on the life-history and level of maternal behavior of the striped mouse Rhabdomys dilectus chakae in captivity. Breeding pairs were assigned to three treatments based on the percentage of dietary protein: baseline (BP; 19%); high protein (HP; 24%); and low protein (LP; 10%). Reproductive output and offspring ontogeny was diminished in the LP treatment compared to the other treatments. Transgenerational effects were studied by breeding F2 females raised on the LP or HP diets on the same (HP-HP, LP-LP) or altered diets (HP-LP, LP-HP). The LP-LP treatment had no reproductive success, while reproductive capacity in the remaining treatments was determined mainly by the diet of mothers at breeding. Pups from protein-restricted females (LP, HP-LP) showed post-weaning compensatory growth. Timing of sexual maturity was age-dependent in female and mass-dependent in male offspring. Females fed low protein diets during breeding (LP, HP-LP) displayed lower levels of maternal behavior than females from the other treatments. This study demonstrates that the level of dietary protein influences the life-history of R. d. chakae in predictable ways. The taxon responds to changes in dietary protein at breeding, largely regardless of its nutrition during rearing. Such phenotypic flexibility in life-history parameters allows Rhabdomys to adaptively respond to unpredictable environmental changes.
Nel, K; Rimbach, R; Pillay, N
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