Biparental care occurs when males and females cooperate to provide care for their joint offspring, and although relatively rare, this form of has evolved repeatedly in birds, mammals, amphibians, fishes and insects. Biparental care is associated with sexual conflict between parents over how much each parent should contribute. Most prior work on the resolution of this conflict has focused on how each parent adjusts its contribution in response to changes in its partner’s contribution. In contrast, little is known about how each individual adjusts its contribution in response to its own state and that of its partner. For example, each parent might contribute less when its own state deteriorates, but contribute more when its partner’s state deteriorates to compensate for any detrimental impact on its offspring. Furthermore, we might expect each parent to respond differently to different components of its own state depending on whether the state in question is reversible (e.g., nutritional state, infection and immune state) or permanent (e.g., inbreeding state, adult body size). The reason for this is that an individual might improve reversible states by reducing its own contribution whilst this would not be case for permanent states. Finally, we might expect each parent to respond differently to different components of its partner’s state depending on whether these states can be assessed directly or indirectly through changes in its partner’s behaviour. This project will examine how each parent responds to variation in different components of its own state and their partner’s state in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. In this species, males and females cooperate to care for their joint offspring and there is sexual conflict between over the amount of care that each parent should contribute, the amount of antimicrobials that each parent should deposit and how much food each parents should consume from the resource they share with the offspring. It is relatively straightforward to experimentally manipulate different components of a parent’s state, such as its nutritional state, infection and immune state, health state, body size, inbreeding state, and age
Key research questions
(1) How do parents respond to changes in their own state? Do parents respond differently and/or independently to changes in different state components?
(2) How do parents respond to changes in their partner’s state? Do parents respond differently and/or independently to changes in different state components?
Methodology and timeline
The project will involve controlled experiments conducted under laboratory conditions and will development of methodology to manipulate different state components in focal individuals and record subsequent consequences for the behaviour and fitness of the focal individual and its partner.
Year 1: Research training, planning of experiments, completion of first set of experiments.
Year 2: Completion of second set of experiments, analyses and writing.
Year 3: Completion of final set of experiments, analyses and writing.
A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferrable and professional skills. Project-specific training will be provided on experimental design, animal breeding and husbandry, recording of data on behaviour, and infection and immune status and fitness consequences.
This project is suitable to a student with training in evolutionary or behavioural ecology, experimental design and statistical analyses. https://www.ed.ac.uk/biology/people/profile/psmiseth https://www.ed.ac.uk/profile/dr-jennifer-regan
Cotter, S. C., & Kilner, R. M. (2010). Sexual division of antibacterial resource defence in breeding burying beetles, Nicrophorus vespilloides. Journal of Animal Ecology, 79, 35–43.
Pilakouta, N., Richardson, J. & Smiseth, P.T. 2015. State-dependent cooperation in burying beetles: parents adjust their contribution towards care based on both their own and their partner’s size. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 28, 1965–1974.
Pilakouta, N., Richardson, J. & Smiseth, P.T. 2016. If you eat, I eat: resolution of sexual conflict over consumption from a shared resource. Animal Behaviour 111, 175–180.