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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Evolutionary Animal Ecology - Prof. Dr. Sandra Steiger

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Keppner, E; Laubenthal , M; Prang, M; Conrad, T; Steiger, S: Harsh nutritional environment has positive and negative consequences for family living in a burying beetle, Ecology and Evolution, 13(1) (2023), doi:DOI: 10.1002/ece3.9699
Harsh environmental conditions in form of low food availability for both offspring and parents alike can affect breeding behavior and success. There has been evidence that food scarce environments can induce competition between family members, and this might be intensified when parents are caring as a pair and not alone. On the other hand, it is possible that a harsh, food-poor environment could also promote cooperative behaviors within a family, leading, for example, to a higher breeding success of pairs than of single parents. We studied the influence of a harsh nutritional environment on the fitness outcome of family living in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. These beetles use vertebrate carcasses for reproduction. We manipulated food availability on two levels: before and during breeding. We then compared the effect of these manipulations in broods with either single females or biparentally breeding males and females. We show that pairs of beetles that experienced a food-poor environment before breeding consumed a higher quantity of the carcass than well-fed pairs or single females. Nevertheless, they were more successful in raising a brood with higher larval survival compared to pairs that did not experience a food shortage before breeding. We also show that food availability during breeding and social condition had independent effects on the mass of the broods raised, with lighter broods in biparental families than in uniparental ones and on smaller carcasses. Our study thus indicates that a harsh nutritional environment can increase both cooperative as well as competitive interactions between family members. Moreover, our results suggest that it can either hamper or drive the formation of a family because parents choose to restrain reproductive investment in a current brood or are encouraged to breed in a food-poor environment, depending on former experiences and their own nutritional status.
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