Evolution of parental care: phenotypic and genetic correlations between parent and offspring traits

Clare Andrews, Loeske Kruuk, Per Smiseth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The evolution of elaborate forms of parental care is an important topic in behavioral ecology, yet the factors shaping the evolution of complex suites of parental and offspring traits are poorly understood. Here, we use a multivariate quantitative genetic approach to study phenotypic and genetic correlations between parental and offspring traits in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. To this end, we recorded two pre-hatching traits (clutch size and egg size), two post-hatching parental behaviors (direct care directed towards larvae and indirect care directed towards resource maintenance), one offspring behavior trait (begging), and two measures of breeding success (larval dispersal mass and number of dispersing larvae). Females breeding on larger carcasses provided less direct care but produced larger larvae than females breeding on smaller carcasses. Furthermore, there were positive phenotypic correlations between clutch size, direct and indirect care. Both egg size and direct care were positively correlated with dispersal mass, while clutch size was negatively correlated with dispersal mass. Clutch size and number of dispersed larvae showed genetic variance both in terms of differences between populations of origin, and significant heritabilities. However, we found no evidence of genetic variance underlying other parental or offspring traits. Our results suggest that correlations between suites of parental traits are driven by variation in individual quality rather than trade-offs, that some parental traits promote offspring growth while others increase the number of offspring produced, and that parental and offspring traits might respond slowly to selection due to low levels of additive genetic variance.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • heritability
  • multivariate analysis
  • Nicrophorus vespilloides
  • parental quality
  • trade-offs


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