Mothers would often benefit from producing more offspring of one sex than the other. Although some species show an astonishing ability to skew their sex ratio adaptively, the trends found in many studies on vertebrates have proved inconsistent. Furthermore, evidence for a mechanism by which such a bias is achieved is equivocal at best. Here, we examine sex–ratio variation over 30 years, both at an individual and a population level, in the highly polygynous, size–dimorphic springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis). Many previous studies of similar species have shown that mothers in superior condition preferentially produce sons, whereas those in poorer condition produce more daughters. We found the opposite to be true in springbok, perhaps because daughters provide mothers in superior condition with a more rapid and secure fitness return. This theory was supported by the findings that earlier–conceived offspring tended to be female and that an increased proportion of daughters were produced with increasing rainfall (which was likely to reduce nutritional stress). We also show that selective reabsorption of embryos is unlikely to be the main mechanism by which deviations from an equal sex ratio are achieved. Hence, either differential implantation occurs or females are able to influence the sex of the sperm fertilizing an egg.
† Deceased 15 September 2003.