Current brood size and residual reproductive value predict offspring desertion in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides

R.J.S. Ward, Sheena Cotter, R.M. Kilner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Life-history theory suggests that offspring desertion can be an adaptive reproductive strategy, in which parents forgo the costly care of an unprofitable current brood to save resources for future reproduction. In the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides, parents commonly abandon their offspring to the care of others, resulting in female-only care, male-only care, brood parasitism, and the care of offspring sired by satellite males. Furthermore, when there is biparental care, males routinely desert the brood before larval development is complete, leaving females behind to tend their young. We attempted to understand these patterns of offspring desertion by using laboratory experiments to compare the fitness costs associated with parental care for each sex and the residual reproductive value of the 2 sexes. We also tested whether current brood size and residual reproductive value together predicted the incidence of brood desertion. We found that males and females each sustained fecundity costs as a consequence of caring for larvae and that these costs were of comparable magnitude. Nevertheless, males had greater residual reproductive value than females and were more likely than females to desert experimental broods. Our results can explain why males desert the brood earlier than females in nature and why female-only care is more common than male-only care. They also suggest that the tipping point from brood parasitism or satellite male behavior to communal breeding (and vice versa) depends on the value of the current brood relative to residual reproductive value.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1274-1281
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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