Logo of transbhomepageaboutsubmitalertseditorial board
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Mar 29; 357(1419): 269–281.
PMCID: PMC1692951

Evolutionary transitions in parental care and live bearing in vertebrates.


We provide the first review of phylogenetic transitions in parental care and live bearing for a wide variety of vertebrates. This includes new analyses of both numbers of transitions and transition probabilities. These reveal numerous transitions by shorebirds and anurans toward uniparental care by either sex. Whereas most or all of the shorebird transitions were from biparental care, nearly all of the anuran transitions have been from no care, reflecting the prevalence of each form of care in basal lineages in each group. Teleost (bony) fishes are similar to anurans in displaying numerous transitions toward uniparental contributions by each sex. Whereas cichlid fishes have often evolved from biparental care to female care, other teleosts have usually switched from no care to male care. Taxa that have evolved exclusive male care without courtship-role reversal are characterized by male territoriality and low costs of care per brood. Males may therefore benefit from care through female preference of parental ability in these species. Primates show a high frequency of transitions from female care to biparental care, reflecting the prevalence of female care in basal lineages. In the numerous taxa that display live bearing by females, including teleosts, elasmobranchs, squamate reptiles and invertebrates, we find that live bearing has always evolved from a lack of care. Although the transition counts and probabilities will undoubtedly be refined as phylogenetic information and methodologies improve, the overall biases in these taxa should help to place adaptive hypotheses for the evolution of care into a stronger setting for understanding directions of change.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (274K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Balshine-Earn S, Earn DJD. On the evolutionary pathway of parental care in mouth-brooding cichlid fishes. Proc Biol Sci. 1998 Nov 22;265(1411):2217–2217. [PMC free article]
  • Beck CW. Mode of fertilization and parental care in anurans. Anim Behav. 1998 Feb;55(2):439–449. [PubMed]
  • Burley Nancy Tyler, Johnson Kristine. The evolution of avian parental care. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Mar 29;357(1419):241–250. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Dulvy NK, Reynolds JD. Evolutionary transitions among egg-laying, live-bearing and maternal inputs in sharks and rays. Proc Biol Sci. 1997 Sep 22;264(1386):1309–1315. [PMC free article]
  • Emlen ST, Oring LW. Ecology, sexual selection, and the evolution of mating systems. Science. 1977 Jul 15;197(4300):215–223. [PubMed]
  • Goodwin Nicholas B, Dulvy Nicholas K, Reynolds John D. Life-history correlates of the evolution of live bearing in fishes. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Mar 29;357(1419):259–267. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Lund R. Viviparity and intrauterine feeding in a new holocephalan fish from the lower carboniferous of montana. Science. 1980 Aug 8;209(4457):697–699. [PubMed]
  • Martins El. Adaptation and the comparative method. Trends Ecol Evol. 2000 Jul;15(7):296–299. [PubMed]
  • Foighil DO, Taylor DJ. Evolution of parental care and ovulation behavior in oysters. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2000 May;15(2):301–313. [PubMed]
  • Parker Geoff A, Royle Nick J, Hartley Ian R. Intrafamilial conflict and parental investment: a synthesis. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Mar 29;357(1419):295–307. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Purvis A. A composite estimate of primate phylogeny. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1995 Jun 29;348(1326):405–421. [PubMed]
  • Sheldon Ben C. Relating paternity to paternal care. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Mar 29;357(1419):341–350. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Székely T, Reynolds JD, Figuerola J. Sexual size dimorphism in shorebirds, gulls, and alcids: the influence of sexual and natural selection. Evolution. 2000 Aug;54(4):1404–1413. [PubMed]
  • Tallamy DW. Sexual selection and the evolution of exclusive paternal care in arthropods. Anim Behav. 2000 Nov;60(5):559–567. [PubMed]
  • Teotónio H, Rose MR. Variation in the reversibility of evolution. Nature. 2000 Nov 23;408(6811):463–466. [PubMed]
  • Tullberg Birgitta S, Ah-King Malin, Temrin Hans. Phylogenetic reconstruction of parental-care systems in the ancestors of birds. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Mar 29;357(1419):251–257. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society


Save items

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...


  • PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles
  • Taxonomy
    Taxonomy records associated with the current articles through taxonomic information on related molecular database records (Nucleotide, Protein, Gene, SNP, Structure).
  • Taxonomy Tree
    Taxonomy Tree

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...