Effects of social stress during early pregnancy on litter size and sex ratio in the golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus)

in Reproduction

Summary. Primiparous female hamsters were mated to proven breeders and stressed during early pregnancy. Females were housed singly throughout gestation except for Days 4, 5 and 6 when they were paired for 10-min intervals 3 times each day with another female matched for age, weight and day of pregnancy. Within each of the pairs, one female was consistently dominant to the other. Controls were exposed to a novel area instead of a conspecific. At parturition, all pups were counted, sexed and weighed. There were no significant differences between litter sizes or sex ratios (defined as % male) of control and dominant females. Litter sizes produced by control or dominant dams were significantly larger than those of subordinate dams, and litter sex ratios of dominants were significantly higher than those of subordinates. Subordinate dams produced fewer males than did dominant dams, but there was no difference in the number of females produced. Also, subordinate dams produced smaller pups than control dams. Examination of uterine implantation sites and fetal resorptions indicated that fetal loss occurred between Days 5 and 10 of pregnancy. These results suggest that subordinate dams produce smaller litters via selective resorption or spontaneous abortion of males in utero and that those males they do produce are smaller than those produced by dominant or control dams. We suggest that males are more susceptible in utero to effects of maternal stress in this species, and may require more maternal investment to survive to term.

Keywords: golden hamster; social stress; litter size; sex ratio; birth weight

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