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The dynamics of brood desertion among communally breeding females in the treehopper, Publilia concava

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Abstract

In species that exhibit extended parental care, females sometimes lay eggs communally in order to redistribute the costs of offspring care. Communal egg-laying often involves redundancy in female effort, such that the number of females contributing to reproduction is more than is needed to provide adequate parental care. As a result, a subset of females will often abandon the communal brood, with the time of departure ranging from immediate abandonment after egg-laying (brood parasitism) to delayed abandonment with prolonged care (cooperative breeding). In this paper I approach the parental care dynamics of female-female broods as a desertion game similar to that of mate desertion in species with bi-parental care. I describe a field study of the insect Publilia concava (Hemiptera: Membracidae), a species that exhibits communal oviposition and a full range of egg guarding. This species exhibits full redundancy in female care, with no difference in survival between singly and doubly guarded broods. I find that double guarding is extremely rare in the population, with most communal broods having only one female guard. While this guard was usually the female that initiated the brood, these same females were more likely to abandon when secondary females arrived and when secondary females exhibited longer guarding durations. Paradoxically, the secondary females usually abandoned the broods they visited, resulting in up to 50% of broods with double abandonment. These unguarded broods suffered a 50% reduction in hatching success, reflecting an important risk for primary females that abandon egg masses to secondary females. Overall, P. concava exhibits desertion dynamics similar to mate desertion in vertebrates and it is likely that the theoretical work in this area will be useful for future work that addresses the allocation of parental care among communal breeders.

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Acknowledgements

I thank P. Buston, B. Danforth, M. Geber, H.K. Reeve, R. Root, and two anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments on earlier drafts. I am grateful to J. Basile and R. Bergman for permission to work on their land. B. Barbosa, C. McDonnell and E. Pueschel provided valuable assistance in the field. A. Wild kindly helped with identification of the ants. This work was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship and the Ecology and Systematics Student Research Fund at Cornell University. The author was also supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship while working on this study. The experiments in this paper comply with the current laws of the country (U.S.A.) in which they were performed.

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Communicated by D. Gwynne

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Zink, A.G. The dynamics of brood desertion among communally breeding females in the treehopper, Publilia concava. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 58, 466–473 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-005-0952-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-005-0952-4

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