Background: One central concept in evolutionary ecology is that current and residual reproductive values are negatively linked by the so-called cost of reproduction. Previous studies examining the nature of this cost suggested a possible involvement of oxidative stress resulting from the imbalance between pro- and anti-oxidant processes. Still, data remain conflictory probably because, although oxidative damage increases during reproduction, high systemic levels of oxidative stress might also constrain parental investment in reproduction. Here, we investigated variation in oxidative balance (i.e. oxidative damage and antioxidant defences) over the course of reproduction by comparing female laboratory mice rearing or not pups.
Results: A significant increase in oxidative damage over time was only observed in females caring for offspring, whereas antioxidant defences increased over time regardless of reproductive status. Interestingly, oxidative damage measured prior to reproduction was negatively associated with litter size at birth (constraint), whereas damage measured after reproduction was positively related to litter size at weaning (cost).
Conclusions: Globally, our correlative results and the review of literature describing the links between reproduction and oxidative stress underline the importance of timing/dynamics when studying and interpreting oxidative balance in relation to reproduction. Our study highlights the duality (constraint and cost) of oxidative stress in life-history trade-offs, thus supporting the theory that oxidative stress plays a key role in life-history evolution.