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Ecol Evol. 2013 Apr;3(4):779-91. doi: 10.1002/ece3.493. Epub 2013 Feb 20.

The origin of parental care in relation to male and female life history.

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Department of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Dept. 2653, 615 McCallie Aven, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 37403 ; Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Yale University PO Box 208106, 165 Prospect St, New Haven, Connecticut, 06520.


The evolution of maternal, paternal, and bi-parental care has been the focus of a great deal of research. Males and females vary in basic life-history characteristics (e.g., stage-specific mortality, maturation) in ways that are unrelated to parental investment. Surprisingly, few studies have examined the effect of this variation in male and female life history on the evolution of care. Here, we use a theoretical approach to determine the sex-specific life-history characteristics that give rise to the origin of paternal, maternal, or bi-parental care from an ancestral state of no care. Females initially invest more into each egg than males. Despite this inherent difference between the sexes, paternal, maternal, and bi-parental care are equally likely when males and females are otherwise similar. Thus, sex differences in initial zygotic investment do not explain the origin of one pattern of care over another. However, sex differences in adult mortality, egg maturation rate, and juvenile survival affect the pattern of care that will be most likely to evolve. Maternal care is more likely if female adult mortality is high, whereas paternal care is more likely if male adult mortality is high. These findings suggest that basic life-history differences between the sexes can alone explain the origin of maternal, paternal, and bi-parental care. As a result, the influence of life-history characteristics should be considered as a baseline scenario in studies examining the origin of care.


Biparental care; invasion analysis; life-history; maternal care; parental care; paternal care

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