Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 12, pp 2261–2268 | Cite as

Parentally biased favouritism in relation to offspring sex in zebra finches

Original Paper


Family conflicts over parental care result in offspring attempting to exert control using solicitation behaviours, whilst the parents are potentially able to retaliate through provisioning rules. However, the evolutionary interests of one parent may not necessarily support the evolutionary interests of the other parent, and such conflicts of interest may be expressed in how the two parents allocate the same form of parental care to individual offspring. Theory suggests that such parentally biased favouritism is a universally predicted outcome of evolutionary conflicts of interest, and empirical evidence suggests that parentally biased favouritism occurs in relation to offspring size and solicitation behaviours. However, unequivocal empirical evidence of parentally biased favouritism in relation to offspring sex is absent, due to being strongly confounded by sex differences in size and solicitation behaviours. Here, we present strong evidence for parentally biased favouritism in relation to offspring sex in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), independent of the effects of chick size and begging intensity. Mothers preferentially provisioned sons over daughters, whilst fathers showed no bias, meaning that sons received more food than daughters. Parentally biased favouritism in relation to offspring sex facilitates parental control over evolutionary conflicts of interest and is probably more widespread than previously realised.


Chick begging Hatching asynchrony Offspring sex Parental care Parentally biased favouritism Zebra finch 



We thank Geoff Holroyd, Peter Flint and Phil Nott for bird husbandry; Murray Aitkin and Christopher Sherlock for statistical advice; Scott Forbes, Kate Lessells, Ian Owens, Ken Wilson, Richard Bardgett and Megan Dickens for other advice; and the Natural Environment Research Council for funding as a studentship to MCM (NER/S/A.2003/11263) and as a research grant to IRH (NE/E010806/1).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark C. Mainwaring
    • 1
  • David Lucy
    • 2
  • Ian R. Hartley
    • 1
  1. 1.Lancaster Environment CentreLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics and StatisticsLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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