Transcriptomes of parents identify parenting strategies and sexual conflict in a subsocial beetle

Darren J. Parker, Christopher B. Cunningham, Craig A. Walling, Clare E. Stamper, Megan L. Head, Eileen M. Roy-Zokan, Elizabeth C. McKinney, Michael G. Ritchie*, Allen J. Moore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parenting in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides is complex and, unusually, the sex and number of parents that can be present is flexible. Such flexibility is expected to involve specialized behaviour by the two sexes under biparental conditions. Here, we show that offspring fare equally well regardless of the sex or number of parents present. Comparing transcriptomes, we find a largely overlapping set of differentially expressed genes in both uniparental and biparental females and in uniparental males including vitellogenin, associated with reproduction, and takeout, influencing sex-specific mating and feeding behaviour. Gene expression in biparental males is similar to that in non-caring states. Thus, being biparental in N. vespilloides describes the family social organization rather than the number of directly parenting individuals. There was no specialization; instead, in biparental families, direct male parental care appears to be limited with female behaviour unchanged. This should lead to strong sexual conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8449
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sep 2015


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