Low frequency of reproduction among iteroparous organisms is most often observed among female ectothermic vertebrates and is thought to be a strategy used to defer reproductive costs. We assessed reproductive costs of male water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) to determine why half of adult males abstain from reproduction each year. There was no evidence of a short-term energetic cost of reproduction. Change in mass did not differ between reproductive and non-reproductive males during the one-month mating season or during the entire four-month activity season. Changes in mass of reproductive males were similar at two sites in which the spatial distribution of females differed. However, there were size-specific differences in growth and survival between reproductive and non-reproductive males. Among reproductive males growth rate decreased with body size at a lower rate than among non-reproductive males. Survival increased with body size for reproductive males, but decreased with body size among non-reproductive males. Most of the differential survival between reproductive and non-reproductive males did not occur during the mating season but rather during hibernation. Size-related differences between reproductive and non-reproductive males may reflect selection having eliminated low quality males from the larger size classes. Overall our results appear most consistent with there being high variance in male quality, such that the best males can bear the cost of reproducing and still grow and survive as well or better than low quality males that abstain from reproduction.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics