Parents influence asymmetric sibling competition: Experimental evidence with partially dependent young

Per T. Smiseth, Richard J. S. Ward, Allen J. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Asymmetric sibling competition, which occurs when some siblings hatch as stronger competitors than others, is an important component of avian reproductive strategies. Here, we report two experiments on the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides investigating how parents might influence the outcome of asymmetric sibling competition. In this species, as in altricial birds, different-aged offspring compete for resources provided by the parents. However, unlike altricial birds, offspring depend only partially on their parents for resources, and parents adjust the brood size directly through filial cannibalism. In the first experiment, we compared the growth and survivorship of different-aged offspring when parents could and could not influence asymmetric sibling competition. In the second experiment, we recorded behavioral interactions between different-aged offspring and parents. We found that senior offspring (early-hatched) grew faster than juniors (late-hatched) when parents were present and could influence the outcome of sibling competition, whereas seniors and juniors grew at similar rates when parents were removed. Thus, seniors benefited more than did juniors when the offspring could obtain resources by begging from the female parent. There was no difference in the survivorship of seniors and juniors. We also found that seniors and juniors spent a similar amount of time feeding from female parents, but juniors spent more time begging and were less effective at begging than seniors. Interestingly, juniors spent more time begging only as long as seniors also begged, suggesting that juniors adjusted their begging effort in response to direct competition against seniors for resources provided by parents. Our study provides novel insights into the ecological significance of asymmetric sibling competition by showing that asymmetric sibling competition took place when parents were present and offspring could obtain resources by begging. In contrast, we found no evidence of asymmetric sibling competition when parents were absent and offspring obtained resources solely by self-feeding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3174-3182
Number of pages9
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • asynchronous hatching
  • begging
  • brood reduction
  • burying beetles
  • Nicrophorus vespilloides
  • parental care
  • partially dependent young
  • self-feeding
  • sibling rivalry
  • FOOD
  • CARE


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