A theoretical analysis of the energetic costs and consequences of parental care decisions

J N Webb, T Szekely, A I Houston, J M McNamara

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69 Citations (SciVal)


Should a parent care for its young or abandon them before they reach independence? We consider parental care behaviour as an adaptive decision, involving trade-offs between current and future reproduction. The condition of the parent is expected to influence these trade-offs. Using a dynamic programming model we explore how changes in the levels of energetic reserves, and time in the season, determine changes in parental care decisions. The novel feature of our model is that we have included the possibility of remating within the current breeding season in a consistent manner by explicitly modelling the behaviour of unmated animals. We show that there may be several fluctuations in the average duration of care during the breeding season. We also show that, because of the dependence of parental care behaviour on both the condition of the parent and time during the breeding season, changing some of the costs of care may increase the duration of care during one part of the season and decrease it at another. The model also shows that the conditions prevailing for animals with dependent offspring can affect the way in which an unmated animal behaves. For example, the behaviour of unmated animals may change to compensate (partly) for increases in the costs of raising offspring, which are produced at a later date (for example, by increasing the duration of foraging between breeding attempts). Overall, the model provides a good framework for understanding how various ecological and life-history variables should influence parental care behaviour during a breeding season.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-340
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences
Issue number1419
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2002


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