burying beetle, larvae, evolution, animal behavior


In species that require parental care, each parent can either care for their offspring or leave them in the care of the other parent. For each parent this creates three possible parental care strategies: biparental care, uniparental (male or female) care, and uniparental desertion by either the male or female. The burying beetle, Nicrophorus orbicollis, typically exhibits biparental care of offspring, and thus provides a unique system that allows us to compare the fitness benefits of these parental care strategies in an unconfounded way. In this study, we assess the lifetime fitness of biparental care, uniparental care, and uniparental desertion strategies in both male and female N. orbicollis. Specifically, we tested for increased fitness of the biparental care strategy compared to uniparental care strategies. Second, we test for equality of fitness between uniparental care and uniparental desertion strategies. Surprisingly, biparental care yields lower lifetime fitness for both parents compared to the other two strategies. Also, uniparental care and uniparental desertion strategies yielded equal fitness. The evolution of biparental care in this system is not consistent with the expectation of a mutual fitness benefit. We discuss other potential explanations for the evolution of biparental care in this system.

Original Publication Citation

Smith AN, Creighton JC, Belk MC (2017) Why does it take two to tango? Lifetime fitness consequences of parental care in a burying beetle. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0186466.

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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Life Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor

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