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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Evolutionary Animal Ecology - Prof. Dr. Sandra Steiger

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Keppner, E; Steiger, S: Males benefit personally from family life: evidence from a wild burying beetle population, Behavioral Ecology, 32(5), 912-918 (2021), doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arab067
Family life in animals is often considered as beneficial for offspring but costly for parents. However, parents might also profit from remaining aggregated within a family unit, especially if a nutrient-rich resource is used for reproduction. We aimed to reveal the potential personal benefits of breeding within a family environment for male Nicrophorus vespilloides, a species of burying beetles that use small vertebrate cadavers to raise their larvae. We previously hypothesized that males obtain an advantage from remaining with their family, because they themselves can feed from the cadaver. This, in turn, enables them to produce more sex pheromone, thereby making them more attractive to females after leaving their brood. However, whether such personal benefits arise under natural conditions is currently unclear because we have no knowledge of the nutritional condition of wild beetles. If carrion is abundant anyways, feeding from a vertebrate cadaver during breeding might not have a noticeable positive effect on the males’ body condition. In the current study, we caught wild males with a natural feeding history and compared their body mass and attractiveness before and after participating in family life. We show that wild males gain weight during breeding and attract more and larger females afterwards. Our study suggests that access to a highly nutrient-rich meal can be a driver of the evolution of family life and eventually biparental care. Males benefit indirectly from defending the resource and offspring against competitors and benefit personally by a higher chance of mating again after breeding.
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