Are parental care trade-offs in shorebirds driven by parental investment or sexual selection?

V A Olson, T J Webb, R P Freckleton, Tamas Szekely

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14 Citations (SciVal)


Sexual selection, mating systems and parental behaviour are closely linked, although the exact nature of their relationship is controversial. The parental investment hypothesis (PIH) states that parental care disparity drives sexual selection intensity, because the sex providing less care competes for the sex that provides more. In contrast, the sexual selection hypothesis (SSH) asserts that more intense sexual selection on males leads to reduced male parental investment. We tested these hypotheses using directional phylogenetic comparative methods in shorebirds, which have an unusually diverse array of breeding systems. Changes in parental care and sexual selection intensity were tightly correlated, and we carried out three sets of analyses focusing on changes in male behaviour, female behaviour and in either sex. The results from the analyses were consistent with both PIH and SSH, although the patterns in male transition were sensitive to model values. We propose two explanations for these results. First, phylogenetic transitions may be idiosyncratic so that they depend on the ecological circumstances of individual species. Second, transitions in social traits, such as breeding systems, may be rapid and take place in ecological time, so directional phylogenetic methods that work through longer time scales may not infer accurately the timing and direction of all changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)672-682
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


  • breeding system
  • sexual selection
  • comparative studies
  • Charadrii
  • parental care
  • reproduction
  • birds


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