Maternal food restriction during pregnancy affects offspring development and swimming performance in a placental live-bearing fish

Hagmayer, Andres; Lankheet, Martin J.; Bijsterbosch, Judith; Leeuwen, Johan L. Van; Pollux, Bart J.A.


How pregnant mothers allocate limited resources to different biological functions such as maintenance, somatic growth, and reproduction can have profound implications for early life development and survival of offspring. Here we examined the effects of maternal food restriction during pregnancy on offspring in the matrotrophic (i.e. mother-nourishment throughout gestation) live-bearing fish species Phalloptychus januarius (Poeciliidae). We fed pregnant females either with a ‘low-food’ or ‘high-food’ ration for six weeks and quantified the consequences for offspring size and body fat at birth and one week after birth. We further measured fast-start escape performance of offspring at birth, as well as swimming kinematics during prey capture at zero, two, and seven days after birth. We found that the length of maternal food restriction during pregnancy negatively affected offspring dry mass and lean dry mass at birth, as well as body fat gain during the first week after birth. Moreover, it impacted the locomotor performance of offspring during prey capture at, and during the first week after, birth. We did not observe an effect of food restriction on fast-start escape performance of offspring. Our study suggests that matrotrophic poeciliid fish are maladapted to unpredictably fluctuating resource environments, because sudden reductions in maternal food availability during pregnancy result in smaller offspring with slower postnatal body fat gain and an inhibition of postnatal improving swimming skills during feeding, potentially leading to lower competitive abilities after birth.