, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 367-373

Competition with flies promotes communal breeding in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus

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Abstract

Communal breeding through nest-sharing may benefit cooperating individuals indirectly, in increased inclusive fitness, or directly, when environmental constraints reduce the fitness of solitary breeders. Burying beetles provide extensive parental care and can breed either in pairs or in larger groups of unrelated males and females. Parentage of communally-reared broods is usually shared but is skewed in favor of the individuals of each sex that provide longer care. Females provide care longer than males, and two females are more likely to remain together in the brood chamber than two males are. Flies and other burying beetles are the major competitors for carcasses and this study suggests that it is competition with flies that promotes communal breeding in Nicrophorus tomentosus On medium-size carcasses (35–40 g) the presence or absence of oviposition by flies had a significant effect on the size of the brood reared, and on large carcasses (55–60 g) the number of beetles present, two or four, had a significant effect on brood size. On both medium and large carcasses, pairs rearing broods on flyblown carcasses had fewer young than pairs on clean carcasses or foursomes on flyblown carcasses. There was a strong trend for an interaction effect between number of beetles and competition with flies (Table 1). Duration of parental care was not affected by competition with flies except for that of the first male to depart, which provided care longer on flyblown carcasses (Table 2). Pairs and foursomes were equally able to defend the carcass and brood from conspecific intruders and from larger intruding Nicrophorus orbicollis (Table 3).

Communicated by R. Gibson