, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 31-39

Brood guarding and the evolution of male parental care in burying beetles

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Summary

Parental behavior that has an impact on the increased survival of offspring, an important factor in the evolution of parental care, can include both guarding and provisioning. The effects of these two components of parental care can be separated and quantified in the burying beetle Nicrophorus orbicollis in which both male and female cooperate to rear young. Although in the absence of competition, reproductive success is reduced by the presence of the second parent in the brood chamber, two parents dramatically reduce the probability that conspecifics will usurp the resource, replace either the male or female, kill the newly hatched brood, and produce a replacement clutch. After the establishment of the burial chamber (but not before) beetles appear to assist their mates in driving off intrasexual competitors. Male assistance in burial does not account for very much of the variance in the speed in which the carcass can be concealed nor are two parents essential to guard against insect predators. There were no significant differences in the duration of parental care by males paired with virgin and non-virgin females suggesting that paternity of the brood for which the male provides care is not a factor determining the length of care. Since male and female reproductive success is limited in Nicrophorus by access to suitable carcasses, many of the typical asymmetries in the costs and benefits of parental care are lacking. However since sperm displacement is not complete, paternity of the replacement clutch, for which the male does not provide care, may be a factor encouraging male desertion before female desertion. Other factors important in the evolution of paternal care, especially the probability of additional reproductive opportunities, are discussed.