Reproduction suppression in mammals: social mediators and implications for conservation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Institute of Integrative Biology

Abstract

Reproductive suppression occurs in diverse mammalian species and may be defined broadly as the inhibition of reproductive physiology or behaviour in response to environmental conditions. Conspecifics are an important component of the environment that can influence reproductive suppression. The social environment can therefore have significant evolutionary consequences both for mechanisms via which individuals inhibit their own reproduction, and for behaviours that function to induce reproductive suppression in others.

Reproductive suppression has important implications for conservation programmes. As a result of sensitivity to environmental conditions, individuals of either sex may fail to breed, either in captivity or in natural environments. Understanding the role of social influences in reproductive suppression can therefore be of great assistance to the success of conservation breeding programmes.

Objectives
1. To investigate drivers and mechanisms of reproductive suppression, the student will design experiments testing predictions of sexual selection and kin selection theory. Using wild rodents as subjects under carefully controlled naturalistic conditions will allow manipulation of key variables in the social environment (e.g. levels of relatedness, age asymmetry, competition and social group size). Non-invasive tests will quantify behavioural and physiological responses to contrasting conditions and the role of odour cues in reproductive suppression.

2. In collaboration with CASE partner Chester Zoo, the student will extend their investigations of reproductive suppression with the aim of promoting improved breeding success of endangered species. Non-invasive endocrine and behavioural studies, combined with analysis of long-term breeding records, surveys, and population modelling, will be applied with the goal of providing novel insights and practical solutions to improve the success of European captive breeding programmes.

Publications

10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S00713X/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2027
2274785 Studentship NE/S00713X/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2023 Alice Clark