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Ecol Lett. 2012 Oct;15(10):1167-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01841.x. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

Exclusive male care despite extreme female promiscuity and low paternity in a marine snail.

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  • 1Center for Population Biology, Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Males exhibit striking variation in the degree to which they invest in offspring, from merely provisioning females with sperm, to providing exclusive post-zygotic care. Paternity assurance is often invoked to explain this variation: the greater a male's confidence of paternity, the more he should be willing to provide care. Here, we report a striking exception to expectations based on paternity assurance: despite high levels of female promiscuity, males of a marine snail provide exclusive, and costly, care of offspring. Remarkably, genetic paternity analyses reveal cuckoldry in all broods, with fewer than 25% of offspring being sired by the caring male, although caring males sired proportionally more offspring in a given clutch than any other fathers did individually. This system presents the most extreme example of the coexistence of high levels of female promiscuity, low paternity, and costly male care, and emphasises the still unresolved roles of natural and sexual selection in the evolution of male parental care.

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