Age and size at maturity: sex, environmental variability and developmental thresholds


In most organisms, transitions between different life–history stages occur later and at smaller sizes as growth conditions deteriorate. Day and Rowe recently proposed that this pattern could be explained by the existence of developmental thresholds (minimum sizes or levels of condition below which transitions are unable to proceed). The developmental–threshold model predicts that the reaction norm of age and size at maturity will rotate in an anticlockwise manner from positive to a shallow negative slope if: (i) initial body size or condition is reduced; and/or (ii) some individuals encounter poor growth conditions at increasingly early developmental stages. We tested these predictions by rearing replicated populations of soil mites Sancassania berlesei (Michael) under different growth conditions. High–food environments produced a vertical relationship between age and size at maturity. The slope became increasingly shallow as food was reduced. By contrast, high food in the maternal environment reduced the slope of the reaction norm of age and size at maturity, whereas low food increased it. Overall, the reaction norm of age and size at maturity in S. berlesei was significantly nonlinear and differed for males and females. We describe how growth conditions, mother's environment and sex determine age and size at maturity in S. berlesei.

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