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Am Nat. 2010 Apr;175(4):436-46. doi: 10.1086/650727.

A key ecological trait drove the evolution of biparental care and monogamy in an amphibian.

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  • 1Department of Biology, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA.


Linking specific ecological factors to the evolution of parental care pattern and mating system is a difficult task of key importance. We provide evidence from comparative analyses that an ecological factor (breeding pool size) is associated with the evolution of parental care across all frogs. We further show that the most intensive form of parental care (trophic egg feeding) evolved in concert with the use of small pools for tadpole deposition and that egg feeding was associated with the evolution of biparental care. Previous research on two Peruvian poison frogs (Ranitomeya imitator and Ranitomeya variabilis) revealed similar life histories, with the exception of breeding pool size. This key ecological difference led to divergence in parental care patterns and mating systems. We present ecological field experiments that demonstrate that biparental care is essential to tadpole survival in small (but not large) pools. Field observations demonstrate social monogamy in R. imitator, the species that uses small pools. Molecular analyses demonstrate genetic monogamy in R. imitator, the first example of genetic monogamy in an amphibian. In total, this evidence constitutes the most complete documentation to date that a single ecological factor drove the evolution of biparental care and genetic and social monogamy in an animal.

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