Publications

Superfetation reduces the negative effects of pregnancy on the fast-start escape performance in live-bearing fish

Fleuren, Mike; Leeuwen, Johan L. van; Pollux, Bart J.A.

Summary

Superfetation, the ability to simultaneously carry multiple litters of different developmental stages in utero, is a reproductive strategy that evolved repeatedly in viviparous animal lineages. The evolution of superfetation is hypothesized to reduce the reproductive burden and, consequently, improve the locomotor performance of the female during pregnancy. Here, we apply new computer-vision-based techniques to study changes in body shape and three-dimensional fast-start escape performance during pregnancy in three live-bearing fishes (family Poeciliidae) that exhibit different levels of superfetation. We found that superfetation correlates with a reduced abdominal distension and a more slender female body shape just before parturition. We further found that body slenderness positively correlates with maximal speeds, curvature amplitude and curvature rate, implying that superfetation improves the fast-start escape performance. Collectively, our study suggests that superfetation may have evolved in performance-demanding (e.g. high flow or high predation) environments to reduce the locomotor cost of pregnancy.