The post-natal environment in which young develop can substantially impact development, adult phenotype, and fitness. In wild mice, competition among litter-mates affects development rate and adult behaviour. We manipulated post-natal litter size in a cross-fostering design to investigate the effects of enlarged and reduced litter sizes on sexual signalling, oxidative stress, and the links between them. Oxidative stress causes somatic damage that can limit reproductive success and lifespan, and is predicted to mediate investment in life-history traits, including sexual signals. We predicted that litter enlargement would cause an increase in potential oxidative stress, inhibit growth and reduce sexual signalling in male mice. Males reared in enlarged litters were smaller at weaning and, despite rapid growth immediately after weaning, remained smaller at ten weeks of age than those reared in smaller litters. Females from enlarged litters were consistently smaller throughout post-weaning development and showed no increase in growth rate than those from reduced litters. In enlarged litters, protein thiol concentration was lower at weaning in the liver and kidneys with this trend continuing at 10 weeks of age in the kidneys only. Aconitase enzyme activity was also lower in mice from enlarged litters at weaning and 10 weeks of age in the kidneys. Male mice from enlarged litters scent marked more frequently and had larger preputial glands than those from reduced litters, indicating greater sexual signalling investment irrespective of this increased oxidative challenge. The results of this study are the first to reveal oxidative costs of developmental stress in small mammals.
- © 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd