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J Evol Biol. 2012 Sep;25(9):1815-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02567.x. Epub 2012 Jul 6.

Post-hatching parental care masks the effects of egg size on offspring fitness: a removal experiment on burying beetles.

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Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Parents can increase the fitness of their offspring by allocating nutrients to eggs and/or providing care for eggs and offspring. Although we have a good understanding of the adaptive significance of both egg size and parental care, remarkably little is known about the co-evolution of these two mechanisms for increasing offspring fitness. Here, we report a parental removal experiment on the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides in which we test whether post-hatching parental care masks the effect of egg size on offspring fitness. As predicted, we found that the parent's presence or absence had a strong main effect on larval body mass, whereas there was no detectable effect of egg size. Furthermore, egg size had a strong and positive effect on offspring body mass in the parent's absence, whereas it had no effect on offspring body mass in the parent's presence. These results support the suggestion that the stronger effect of post-hatching parental care on offspring growth masks the weaker effect of egg size. We found no correlation between the number and size of eggs. However, there was a negative correlation between larval body mass and brood size in the parent's presence, but not in its absence. These findings suggest that the trade-off between number and size of offspring is shifted from the egg stage towards the end of the parental care period and that post-hatching parental care somehow moderates this trade-off.

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