The quantitative genetics of sex differences in parenting

Craig A. Walling, Clare E. Stamper, Per T. Smiseth, Allen J. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Sex differences in parenting are common in species where both males and females provide care. Although there is a considerable body of game and optimality theory for why the sexes should differ in parental care, genetics can also play a role, and no study has examined how genetic influences might influence differences in parenting. We investigated the extent that genetic variation influenced differences in parenting, whether the evolution of differences could be constrained by shared genetic influences, and how sex-specific patterns of genetic variation underlying parental care might dictate which behaviors are free to evolve in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. Females provided more direct care than males but did not differ in levels of indirect care or the number of offspring they were willing to rear. We found low to moderate levels of heritability and evolvability for all 3 parenting traits in both sexes. Intralocus sexual conflict was indicated by moderately strong intersex genetic correlations., but these were not so strong as to represent an absolute constraint to the evolution of sexual dimorphism in care behavior. Instead, the pattern of genetic correlations between parental behaviors showed sex-specific tradeoffs. Thus, differences in the genetic correlations between parental traits within a sex create sex-specific lines of least evolutionary resistance, which in turn produce the specific patterns of sex differences in parental care. Our results therefore suggest a mechanism for the evolution of behavioral specialization during biparental care if uniparental and biparental care behaviors share the same genetic influences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18430-18435
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number47
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2008

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • behavior genetics
  • genetic architecture
  • lines of least evolutionary resistance
  • parental care
  • sexual dimorphism


Dive into the research topics of 'The quantitative genetics of sex differences in parenting'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this