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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Sep 7;270(1526):1773-7.

Partial begging: an empirical model for the early evolution of offspring signalling.

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.


Species where, from birth, the offspring feed themselves in addition to begging for food from the parents can be described as 'partially begging'. Such species provide a unique opportunity to examine the evolution of offspring begging from non-signalling offspring foraging strategies. We used the partially begging burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides to test specific hypotheses concerning the coexistence of begging and self-feeding. We first tested whether the cessation of larval begging coincided with an increase in the efficiency of self-feeding. As predicted, begging ceased when the efficiency of self-feeding reached the point where the larvae grew just as well without as with access to food provided by the parent. We next tested whether the transition to nutritional independence was under parental or offspring control. The parent did not change its behaviour towards the larvae over time, while the larvae changed their behaviour by reducing the time spent begging in the presence of the parent. Food allocation during the transition to nutritional independence was therefore under offspring control. Our results on partial begging provide a starting point for new theoretical models for the origin of begging. We suggest that these should be constructed as scramble-competition models because the offspring control food allocation.

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