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The penalty of having a sister -- why sibling sex matters for male saiga antelopes

Having a twin sister could put male saiga antelopes at a reproductive disadvantage, says new research published today. The study shows that male twins with a sister are born lighter than those with a brother, making them smaller than the optimal size for males. The research also shows that saigas are the supermums of the hoofed animal world with no other similar species investing more in their offspring during pregnancy.

The study's results call into question current understanding of the development of male and female foetuses of this species, and give scientists a new insight into the importance of sibling sex and what implications this may have for the animals as they mature.

This study shows that when a female is pregnant with mixed-sex twins, the male foetus does not undergo the substantial amount of growth that occurs in a male foetus with a brother, resulting in a sub-optimal birth weight. Saiga males mate with many females and face strong male-male competition during short mating seasons. This means that size matters for males - being smaller than average is one of the major limiting factors for reproductive success.

Aline Kühl from Imperial College London's Division of Biology, lead author of the paper, explains that although they do not yet understand the precise mechanism behind this suboptimal development in male twins, its existence is clear. "When siblings in a litter vary in sex, maternal investment should be sex-specific, meaning that the male foetus grows bigger than the female. However, it seems there are limitations in the ability of the mother to provision mixed twin litters in the womb," she said.

The researchers point out that mixed-sex litters have been shown to have an impact on animal health elsewhere in the animal world. In dairy cows for example, it is well known that calves from mixed litters are less fit. Female heifers from mixed litters are generally infertile. But unlike dairy cows, in cases o
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Source:Imperial College London


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