Male reproductive investment is energetically costly, and measures of human reproductive steroid hormones (testosterone), developmental tempo (pubertal timing) and growth (stature) correlate with local ecologies at the population level. It is unclear whether male reproductive investment in later life is ‘set’ during childhood development, mediated through adulthood, or varies by ethnicity. Applying a life-course model to Bangladeshi migrants to the United Kingdom, here we investigate plasticity in human male reproductive function resulting from childhood developmental conditions. We hypothesized that childhood ecology shapes adult trade-offs between reproductive investment and/or other fitness-related traits. We predicted correspondence between these traits and developmental timing of exposure to ecological constraints (Bangladesh) or conditions of surplus (United Kingdom). We compared: Bangladesh sedentees (n = 107); Bangladeshi men who migrated in childhood to the United Kingdom (n = 59); migrants who arrived in adulthood (n = 75); second-generation UK-born and raised children of Bangladeshi migrants (n = 56); and UK-born ethnic Europeans (n = 62). Migration before puberty predicted higher testosterone and an earlier recalled pubertal age compared with Bangladeshi sedentees or adult migrants, with more pronounced differences in men who arrived before the age of eight. Second-generation Bangladeshis were taller, with higher testosterone than sedentees and adult migrants, and higher waking testosterone than Europeans. Age-related testosterone profiles varied by group, declining in UK migrants, increasing in sedentees, and having no significant relationship within UK-born groups. We conclude that male reproductive function apparently remains plastic late into childhood, is independent of Bengali or European ethnicity, and shapes physiological trade-offs later in life.
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The authors thank K. Begum, O. Choudhury, A. Chowdhury, D. Lawson, Z. Salehin, T. Sharmeen and students of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology for assistance with recruitment, translation and data collection, and the Bengali Workers Association, Chadswell Community Centre and Bengali Football Association for providing facilities and promotion. We thank L. Houghton, R. Mace and A. Núñez-de la Mora for advice on study implementation, and H. Colleran and A. Alvergne for comments on previous drafts. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (PTA-030-2005-00706), Prostate Research Campaign UK (G2003-07), and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (to G.R.B., UF951006).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Magid, K., Chatterton, R.T., Ahamed, F.U. et al. Childhood ecology influences salivary testosterone, pubertal age and stature of Bangladeshi UK migrant men. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1146–1154 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0567-6
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