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Sex allocation theory predicts that mothers should adjust their sex-specific reproductive investment in relation to the predicted fitness returns from sons versus daughters. Sex allocation theory has proved to be successful in some invertebrate taxa but data on vertebrates often fail to show the predicted shift in sex ratio or sex-specific resource investment. This is likely to be partly explained by simplistic assumptions of vertebrate life-history and mechanistic constraints, but also because the fundamental assumption of sex-specific fitness return on investment is rarely supported by empirical data. In short-lived species, the time of hatching or parturition can have a strong impact on the age and size at maturity. Thus, if selection favors adult sexual-size dimorphism, females can maximize their fitness by adjusting offspring sex over the reproductive season. We show that in mallee dragons, Ctenophorus fordi, date of hatching is positively related to female reproductive output but has little, if any, effect on male reproductive success, suggesting selection for a seasonal shift in offspring sex ratio. We used a combination of field and laboratory data collected over two years to test if female dragons adjust their sex allocation over the season to ensure an adaptive match between time of hatching and offspring sex. Contrary to our predictions, we found no effect of laying date on sex ratio, nor did we find any evidence for within-female between-clutch sex-ratio adjustment. Furthermore, there was no differential resource investment into male and female offspring within or between clutches and sex ratios did not correlate with female condition or any partner traits. Consequently, despite evidence for selection for a seasonal sex-ratio shift, female mallee dragons do not seem to exercise any control over sex determination. The results are discussed in relation to potential constraints on sex-ratio adjustment, alternative selection pressures, and the evolution of temperature-dependent sex determination.


Journal article



Publication Date





2131 - 2136


Adaptation, Physiological, Animals, Biological Evolution, Female, Genotype, Lizards, Male, Reproduction, Seasons, Sex Characteristics, Sex Determination Processes, Sex Ratio