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Females often manage the high energy demands associated with reproduction by accumulating and storing energy in the form of fat before initiating their reproductive effort. However, fat stores cannot satisfy all reproductive resource demands, which include considerable investment of amino acids (e.g., for the production of yolk proteins or gluconeogenesis). Because capital breeders generally do not eat during reproduction, these amino acids must come from internal resources, typically muscle proteins. Although the energetic costs of reproduction have been fairly well studied, there are limited data on structural and performance costs associated with the muscle degradation required to meet amino acid demands. Thus, we examined structural changes (epaxial muscle width) and performance costs (constriction and strength) over the course of reproduction in a pure capital breeder, the children's python (Antaresia childreni). We found that both egg production (i.e., direct resource allocation) and maternal care (egg brooding) induce muscle catabolism and affect performance of the female. Although epaxial muscle loss was minimal in nonreproductive females, it reached up to 22% (in females after oviposition) and 34% (in females after brooding) of initial muscle width. Interestingly, we found that individuals with higher initial muscular condition allocated more of their muscle into reproduction. The amount of muscle loss was significantly linked to clutch mass, underscoring the role of structural protein in egg production. Egg brooding significantly increased proteolysis and epaxial loss despite no direct allocation to the offspring. Muscle loss was linked to a significant reduction in performance in postreproductive females. Overall, these results demonstrate that capital-breeding females experience dramatic costs that consume structural resources and jeopardize performance.


Olivier Lourdais, Sophie Lorioux, Dale F DeNardo. Structural and performance costs of reproduction in a pure capital breeder, the Children's python Antaresia childreni. Physiological and biochemical zoology : PBZ. 2013 Mar-Apr;86(2):176-83

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PMID: 23434777

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