Evolution of Parental Care

James Gilbert

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online September 2013 | | DOI:
Evolution of Parental Care

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences


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Parental care is such a fundamental behavior to us that we often forget that it requires an evolutionary explanation. Around us in nature, though, we see a vast diversity of parental care strategies. Bird parents, like us, cooperate tirelessly to raise chicks, while most mammal mothers have to suckle alone; insect parents usually abandon their eggs to the elements, but occasionally, very rarely, they tend single offspring intensively. Fishes may broadcast-spawn millions of eggs into the ocean, but some fathers prepare nests and carefully fan their eggs with oxygenated water until they hatch. Parental care, however defined, is a fundamental investment by an animal into the fitness of its offspring, ranging from the briefest of periods of guarding eggs to intensive tending and feeding of offspring through to adulthood (and sometimes beyond). It is inextricably linked with an animal’s life history and its pattern of reproductive allocation, so the reader is strongly advised also to consult the companion Oxford Bibliographies Online article Reproductive Allocation in Animals for a wider overview of life-history strategies. Parental care occurs all over the animal kingdom and takes many forms, is performed by either or both parents, and is an arena for some amazing stories of cooperation, but it can be the source of extensive conflict. After an initial rush of theory, empirical descriptions, and physiological measurements, parental care research has now settled into a pattern-finding period in which comparative researchers are identifying tantalizing trends in testing the early theories, behavioral ecologists are providing ever more credible measurements of costs and benefits of different components of care, and recently, perhaps most excitingly, geneticists are beginning to exert their strong quantitative influence on the field. With these developments, model systems are becoming increasingly important, such as great tits, sticklebacks, earwigs, and burying beetles, all of which play a large part in the literature cited here. As ever, vast swathes of diversity remain unstudied, and when detailed experimental and genetic manipulations are not possible, the natural historian still has a job making careful observations. Room remains also for relatively major theoretical advances, as the following sections will show.

Article.  24395 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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