Resource Allocation in Offspring Provisioning: An Evaluation of the Conditions Favoring the Evolution of Matrotrophy

Joel C. Trexler, Donald L. DeAngelis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


We used analytic and simulation models to determine the ecological conditions favoring evolution of a matrotrophic fish from a lecithotrophic ancestor given a complex set of trade-offs. Matrotrophy is the nourishment of viviparous embryos by resources provided between fertilization and parturition, while lecithotrophy describes embryo nourishment provided before fertilization. In fishes and reptiles, embryo nourishment encompasses a continuum from solely lecithotrophic to primarily matrotrophic. Matrotrophy has evolved independently from lecithotrophic ancestors many times in many groups. We assumed matrotrophy increased the number of offspring a viviparous female could gestate and evaluated conditions of food availability favoring lecithotrophy or matrotrophy. The matrotrophic strategy was superior when food resources exceeded demand during gestation but at a risk of overproduction and reproductive failure if food intake was limited. Matrotrophic females were leaner during gestation than lecithotrophic females, yielding shorter life spans. Our models suggest that matrotrophic embryo nourishment evolved in environments with high food availability, consistently exceeding energy requirements for maintaining relatively large broods. Embryo abortion with some resorption of invested energy is a necessary preadaptation to the evolution of matrotrophy. Future work should explore trade-offs of age-specific mortality and reproductive output for females maintaining different levels of fat storage during gestation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)574-585
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2003


  • Lecithotrophy
  • Life history
  • Matrotrophy
  • Poecilia latipinna
  • Trade-off
  • Viviparity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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