Role of parent-offspring communication in resolving parent-offspring conflict in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides
Mäenpää, Maarit Inkeri
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Parent-offspring communication is widely regarded as having evolved to provide the parent with honest information about the hunger state of its offspring, thus enabling it to mediate conflict over resource allocation between parents and offspring. The conflict is caused by the offspring benefitting from receiving more care than the parents are selected to provide due to the costliness of care. I studied the role of parent-offspring communication as a mediator for the conflict in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. The burying beetle is an excellent study system for this question, as the larvae, that are raised on carcasses of small vertebrates and cared for by both the male and the female beetle, beg for food from their parents with highly distinguishable begging displays. First, I examined whether offspring adjusted their begging to different classes, or individual adult beetles. I found that while the larvae did not discriminate between male and female beetles, they adjusted their care to cues indicating individual recognition of adults. Second, I tested whether begging was based on offspring size at egg stage, and found no indication that offspring adjusted their begging to improve their innate quality. Third, I examined whether parental response to begging exhibits behavioural plasticity when the internal clock for the timing of reproduction for the parent, and the demand from the larvae do not meet. I found that the parents adjusted their care based on the amount of begging exhibited by the larvae. Fourth, I investigated whether parental adjustment of care based on offspring begging incurs a reproductive cost to them. I found that the females paid a cost in fecundity, but not in the number of dispersing larvae or their own survival. My original contribution to knowledge is therefore to show through these four studies, that offspring begging is adjusted based on parental cues, and can directly affect proximate parental behaviours, and also incurs a reproductive cost to their future reproductive success, thus providing more experimental evidence for the importance of parent-offspring communication, and its implications to the evolution of parental care.