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J Evol Biol. 2015 Nov;28(11):1965-74. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12712. Epub 2015 Aug 27.

State-dependent cooperation in burying beetles: parents adjust their contribution towards care based on both their own and their partner's size.

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


Handicapping experiments on species with biparental care show that a focal parent increases its contribution when its partner is handicapped. Such results are interpreted as evidence for negotiation, whereby each parent adjusts its amount of care to that of its partner. However, it is currently unclear whether the focal parent responds to a change in its handicapped partner's behaviour or state. To address this gap, we conducted an experiment on the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides where we first generated different-sized males and females by varying the duration of larval development. We then used a 2 × 2 factorial design in which a small or large male was paired with a small or large female. Small females provided less direct care (food provisioning and interactions with larvae) than large females, and both males and females provided less direct care when paired with a small partner. Thus, the focal parent adjusted its contribution towards care based on both its own state and that of its partner. There was also evidence for negotiation between the two parents as the focal parent adjusted its contribution based on the amount of care by its partner. However, there was no evidence that negotiation accounted for how the focal parent responded to its partner's size. Our results have important implications for our understanding of biparental cooperation as they show that each parent adjusts its contribution not only based on the amount of care provided by its partner but also based on its own state and its partner's state.


Nicrophorus vespilloides; biparental care; burying beetles; negotiation; sealed bid; sexual conflict

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