Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 171–181 | Cite as

Manipulation of sex differences in parental care

  • Jonathan Wright
  • Innes Cuthill


In a species with biparental care two parents cooperate to provide the appropriate amount of care for the young. Recent theoretical treatments consider the evolutionarily stable investment strategy. Under most conditions, the parental investment of the two partners should be negatively correlated, with the shortfall of one partner being partially compensated for by the other. Previous experimental manipulations of biparental care have involved removal of one partner, yet the response of a widowed bird may differ from that of a mated bird whose partner is doing less than its fair share of parental care. We present the first data involving subtle manipulations of sex differences in parental care where both partners continue to care for the young. This study involves pairs in a nestbox colony of european starlings (Sturnus vulgaris L.) with all brood sizes manipulated to five chicks. Pairs were randomly assigned to three groups: (i) male parental care reduced; (ii) female parental care reduce; and (iii) control pairs. Parental care was manipulated by attaching small weights to the base of a bird's tail feathers. Regardless of sex, nest visitation rate was reduced in the weighted birds with an incomplete compensatory increase by their unweighted partner. Additional parental duties were also considered, including shifts in prey type delivered to the nest, in both weighted birds and their partners. The shift in diet and the overall lower total visitation rate in experimental nests contributed to slower chick growth and lower chick weights than in control nests. The data accord with models suggesting that equality of invesment in biparental species is evolutionarily stable, but reveal new dimensions of parental response that need to be taken into account in theoretical treatments.


Parental Care Brood Size Visitation Rate Tail Feather European Starling 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Wright
    • 1
  • Innes Cuthill
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyEdward Grey InstituteOxfordU.K.

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