Population dynamics predicts that on average parents should invest equally in male and female offspring; similarly, the physiology of mammalian sex determination is supposedly stochastic, producing equal numbers of sons and daughters. However, a high quality parent can maximize fitness by biasing their birth sex ratio (SR) to the sex with the greatest potential to disproportionately outperform peers. All SR manipulation theories share a fundamental prediction: grandparents who bias birth SR should produce more grandoffspring via the favored sex. The celebrated examples of biased birth SRs in nature consistent with SR manipulation theories provide compelling circumstantial evidence. However, this prediction has never been directly tested in mammals, primarily because the complete three-generation pedigrees needed to test whether individual favored offspring produce more grandoffspring for the biasing grandparent are essentially impossible to obtain in nature. Three-generation pedigrees were constructed using 90 years of captive breeding records from 198 mammalian species. Male and female grandparents consistently biased their birth SR toward the sex that maximized second-generation success. The most strongly male-biased granddams and grandsires produced respectively 29% and 25% more grandoffspring than non-skewing conspecifics. The sons of the most male-biasing granddams were 2.7 times as fecund as those of granddams with a 50:50 bias (similar results are seen in grandsires). Daughters of the strongest female-biasing granddams were 1.2 times as fecund as those of non-biasing females (this effect is not seen in grandsires). To our knowledge, these results are the first formal test of the hypothesis that birth SR manipulation is adaptive in mammals in terms of grandchildren produced, showing that SR manipulation can explain biased birth SR in general across mammalian species. These findings also have practical implications: parental control of birth SR has the potential to accelerate genetic loss and risk of extinction within captive populations of endangered species.


This is the publisher pdf of Thogerson CM, Brady CM, Howard RD, Mason GJ, Pajor EA, et al. (2013) Winning the Genetic Lottery: Biasing Birth Sex Ratio Results in More Grandchildren. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67867. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067867 and is available at: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067867.

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