Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 148, Supplement 2, pp 211–217 | Cite as

Sexual conflict over parental care: a case study of shorebirds

  • Tamás SzékelyEmail author
  • András Kosztolányi
  • Clemens Küpper
  • Gavin H. Thomas


Shorebirds provide excellent model organisms to study breeding system evolution. We argue that sexual conflict theory is a useful approach to understand breeding system evolution in general, and specifically in shorebirds. Here, we focus on two major questions: (1) why do species shift from biparental care to uniparental care, and (2) why do some species shift toward female-biased care whereas others shift toward male-biased care? We overview recent phylogenetic and experimental studies that address these two questions. Firstly, current evidence suggests that the demand of chicks has a major influence on whether a species exhibits biparental or uniparental care. The demand of chicks has further implications for phenotypic rates of evolution. Secondly, experimental manipulations in the field using a small shorebird, the Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus, are consistent with the idea that the shift from biparental care toward male-biased care relates to female-biased mating opportunities, and thus to higher remating probability for deserting females than for deserting males. Finally, we call for further studies of shorebirds, since the breeding system of most species has not been studied in detail. Long-term monitoring of population ecology, breeding systems and behaviour, and experimental manipulations and genetic analyses, are all needed to test predictions of sexual conflict theory.


Breeding system Sexual conflict Parental care Offspring desertion Kentish Plover 



T.S. was supported by NERC (GR3/10957), BBSRC (BBS/B/05788), a Research Fellowship by The Leverhulme Trust (RF/2/RFG/2005/0279) and a Hrdy Visiting Fellowship of Harvard University. A.K. was funded by an Eötvös Scholarship and The Royal Society/NATO (16313). C.K.’s project is supported by NERC Genetic Facility Grant (MGF 140/2006). G.H.T. is a NERC-funded research associate at the Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College, London.


  1. Andersson M (2005) Evolution of classical polyandry: three steps to female emancipation. Ethology 111:1–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amat JA, Fraga RM, Arroyo GM (1999) Brood desertion and polygamous breeding in the Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus. Ibis 141:596–607CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnqvist G, Rowe L (2005) Sexual conflict. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  4. Blanckenhorn WU (2005) Behavioral causes and consequences of sexual size dimorphism. Ethology 111:977–1016CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blomqvist D, Andersson M, Küpper C, Cuthill IC, Kis J, Lanctot RB, Sandercock BK, Székely T, Wallander J, Kempenaers B (2002) Genetic similarity between mates explains extra-pair parentage in three species of waders. Nature 419:613–615PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brunton DH (1988) Sexual differences in reproductive effort: time-activity budgets of monogamous killdeer, Charadrius vociferus. Anim Behav 36:705–717CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Darwin C (1871) The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. Murray, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Dugatkin LA (1997) Cooperation among animals. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Emlen ST, Oring LW (1977) Ecology, sexual selection and the evolution of mating systems. Science 197:215–223PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Emlen ST, Demong NJ, Emlen DJ (1989) Experimental induction of infanticide in female wattled jacanas. Auk 106:1–7Google Scholar
  11. Erckmann WJ (1983) The evolution of polyandry in shorebirds: an evaluation of hypotheses. In: Wasser SK (ed) Social behavior of female vertebrates. Academic, New York, pp 113–168Google Scholar
  12. Gavrilets S, Waxman D (2002) Sympatric speciation by sexual conflict. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 99:10533–10538PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Griffith SC, Owens IPF, Thuman KA (2002) Extra-pair paternity in birds: a review of interspecific variation and adaptive function. Mol Ecol 11:2195–2212PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hammerstein P (2003) Genetic and cultural evolution of cooperation. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  15. Hildén O (1975) Breeding system of Temminck’s stint Calidris temminckii. Ornis Fenn 52:117–146Google Scholar
  16. Houston AI, Székely T, McNamara JM (2005) Conflict over parental care. Trends Ecol Evol 20:33–38PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hrdy SB (1979) Infanticide among animals: a review, classification, and examination of the implications for the reproductive strategies of females. Ethol Sociobiol 1:13–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kålås JA (1986) Incubation schedules in different parental care systems in the Dotterel Charadrius morinellus. Ardea 74:185–190Google Scholar
  19. Kosztolányi A, Székely T, Cuthill IC, Yilmaz KT, Berberoglu S (2006) The influence of habitat on brood-rearing behavior in the Kentish plover. J Anim Ecol 75:257–265PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Küpper C, Kis J, Kosztolányi A, Székely T, Cuthill IC, Blomqvist D (2004) Genetic mating system and timing of extra-pair fertilizations in the Kentish plover. Behav Ecol Socbiol 57:32–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lank DB, Smith CM, Hanotte O, Ohtonen A, Bailey S, Burke T (2002) High frequency of polyandry in a lek mating system. Behav Ecol 13:209–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lessells CM (1999) Sexual conflict in animals. In: Keller L (ed) Levels of selection in evolution. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 75–99Google Scholar
  23. Oring LW (1986) Avian polyandry, In: Johnston RF (ed) Current ornithology, vol 3. Plenum, New York, pp 309–351Google Scholar
  24. Packer C, Pusey AE (1984) Infanticide in carnivores. In: Hausfater G, Blaffer Hrdy S (eds) Infanticide: comparative and evolutionary perspectives. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 31–42Google Scholar
  25. Pagel M (1994) Detecting correlated evolution on phylogenies: a general method for the comparative analysis of discrete characters. Proc R Soc Lond B 255:37–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Parker G, Royle NJ, Hartley IR (2002). Intrafamilial conflict and parental investment: a synthesis. Philos Trans R Soc Lond 357:295–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pitelka FA, Holmes RT, Maclean SF Jr (1974) Ecology and evolution of social organization in Arctic sandpipers. Am Zool 14:185–204Google Scholar
  28. Reynolds JD (1996) Animal breeding systems. Trends Ecol Evol 11:68–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reynolds JD, Székely T (1997) The evolution of parental care in shorebirds: life histories, ecology and sexual selection. Behav Ecol 8:126–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Reynolds JD, Goodwin NB, Freckleton RP (2002) Evolutionary transitions in parental care and live-bearing in vertebrates. Philos Trans R Soc Lond 357:269–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sanz JJ, Kranenbarg S, Tinbergen JM (2000) Differential response by males and females to manipulation of partner contribution in the great tit (Parus major). J Anim Ecol 69:74–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Székely T, Cuthill IC (1999) Brood desertion in Kentish plover: the value of parental care. Behav Ecol 10:191–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Székely T, Lessells CM (1993) Mate change by Kentish plovers Charadrius alexandrinus. Ornis Scand 24:317–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Székely T, Reynolds JR (1995) Evolutionary transitions in parental care in shorebirds. Proc R Soc Lond B 262:57–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Székely T, Cuthill IC, Kis J (1999) Brood desertion in Kentish plover: sex differences in remating opportunities. Behav Ecol 10:185–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Székely T, Webb JN, Cuthill IC (2000) Mating patterns, sexual selection and parental care: an integrative approach. In: Apollonio M, Festa-Bianchet M, Mainardi D (eds) Vertebrate mating systems. World Scientific, Singapore, pp 159–185Google Scholar
  37. Székely T, Thomas GH, Cuthill IC (2006) Sexual conflict, ecology and breeding systems in shorebirds. BioScience 56:801–808CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Temrin H, Sillén-Tullberg BS (1995) A phylogenetic analysis of the evolution of avian mating systems in relation to altricial and precocial young. Behav Ecol 6:296–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Thomas GH (2004) Sexual conflict, ecology and breeding systems in shorebirds: Phylogenetic analyses. PhD Thesis, University of BathGoogle Scholar
  40. Thomas GH, Székely T (2005) Evolutionary pathways in shorebird breeding systems: sexual conflict, parental care, and chick development. Evolution 59:2222–2230PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Thomas GH, Freckleton RP, Székely T (2006) Comparative analyses of the influence of developmental mode on phenotypic diversification rates in shorebirds. Proc R Soc Lond B 273:1619–1624CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Thomas GH, Székely T, Reynolds JD (2007) Sexual conflict and the evolution of breeding systems in shorebirds. Adv Study Behav (in press)Google Scholar
  43. Trivers R (1972) Parental investment and sexual selection. In: Campbell B (ed) Sexual selection and the descent of man. Aldine, Chicago, pp 136–179Google Scholar
  44. Warriner JS, Warriner JC, Page GW, Stenzel LE (1986) Mating system and reproductive success of a small population of polygamous Snowy Plovers. Wilson Bull 98:15–37Google Scholar
  45. Westneat DF, Stewart IRK (2003) Extra-pair paternity in birds: causes, correlates, and conflict. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 34:365–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tamás Székely
    • 1
    Email author
  • András Kosztolányi
    • 1
  • Clemens Küpper
    • 1
  • Gavin H. Thomas
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biology and BiochemistryUniversity of BathBathUK
  2. 2.NERC Centre for Population BiologyImperial College LondonAscotUK

Personalised recommendations