Parental responses to increasing levels of handicapping in a burying beetle

Tom Ratz, Thomas Nicol, Per Terje Smiseth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parental care is highly variable, reflecting that parents make flexible decisions about how much care to provide in response to variation in the cost and/or benefit of care. Handicapping has traditionally been used as a tool for increasing the energetic cost of care, thereby inducing a reduction in care by handicapped parents. However, recent evidence shows that handicapped parents sometimes provide more care, suggesting that handicapping can trigger terminal investment. Here, we investigate responses to different levels of handicapping in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides by comparing handicapped female parents fitted with a wide range of handicaps, as well as control females without a handicap. We found that handicapped females spent more time provisioning food and less time being absent from the crypt than control females, whilst there was no effect of the level of handicapping among handicapped females. We found no effect of handicapping on larval begging behavior, larval performance (mean larval mass and brood size at dispersal), or female investment in future reproduction (i.e., weight gain whilst breeding and life span after breeding). Our findings provide no support for the widely held assumption that handicapping simply increases the cost of care. Instead, our results are consistent with the suggestion that handicapping triggers terminal investment by suppressing the condition of parents below the threshold at which terminal investment is triggered.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberarz157
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2019


  • cost of care
  • Nicrophorus vespilloides
  • parental decision
  • reproductive trade-off
  • terminal investment

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