, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 313-320

Reproductive dominance and differential ovicide in the communally breeding burying beetle Nicrophorus tomentosus

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Communal breeding can be characterized by the division of reproduction among cooperating individuals and, if the distribution of reproduction is inequitable, by the mechanisms for achieving skewed reproductive success. The burying beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus) is a facultative communal breeder. Unrelated adults, especially females, provide extensive parental care to broods of mixed parentage. The frequency and degree of reproductive skew between two females were examined experimentally. On medium-size carcasses, the proportion of eggs attributed to each female was not significantly different from random in 42% of the broods, skewed in 42% and not shared in 16%. Although reproduction was usually skewed in favor of the larger female, the relative sizes of the two females did not predict the degree of skew. On large carcasses, the proportion of eggs attributed to each female was not different from random in 87% of the broods and weakly skewed in 13%. Several mechanisms for biasing reproductive success were investigated. Females increase the proportion of their offspring in the brood by committing differential ovicide. Secondly, burying and preparing a carcass cooperatively stimulates ovarian development of the larger female and slows it for the smaller female, reducing or delaying oviposition by the subordinate. Thirdly, larger females are more likely to be dominant and are more fecund than smaller females.

Received: 20 July 1996 / Accepted after revision: 30 November 1996