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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Aug 22;275(1645):1823-30. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0199.

Parent-offspring conflict and co-adaptation: behavioural ecology meets quantitative genetics.

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  • 1Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK.


The evolution of the complex and dynamic behavioural interactions between caring parents and their dependent offspring is a major area of research in behavioural ecology and quantitative genetics. While behavioural ecologists examine the evolution of interactions between parents and offspring in the light of parent-offspring conflict and its resolution, quantitative geneticists explore the evolution of such interactions in the light of parent-offspring co-adaptation due to combined effects of parental and offspring behaviours on fitness. To date, there is little interaction or integration between these two fields. Here, we first review the merits and limitations of each of these two approaches and show that they provide important complementary insights into the evolution of strategies for offspring begging and parental resource provisioning. We then outline how central ideas from behavioural ecology and quantitative genetics can be combined within a framework based on the concept of behavioural reaction norms, which provides a common basis for behavioural ecologists and quantitative geneticists to study the evolution of parent-offspring interactions. Finally, we discuss how the behavioural reaction norm approach can be used to advance our understanding of parent-offspring conflict by combining information about the genetic basis of traits from quantitative genetics with key insights regarding the adaptive function and dynamic nature of parental and offspring behaviours from behavioural ecology.

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