Individual variation and the resolution of conflict over parental care in penduline tits

Rene E Van Dijk, Tamas Szekely, J Komdeur, A Pogány, T W Fawcett, F J Weissing

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Eurasian penduline tits (Remiz pendulinus) have an unusually diverse breeding system consisting of frequent male and female polygamy, and uniparental care by the male or the female. Intriguingly, 30 to 40 per cent of all nests are deserted by both parents. To understand the evolution of this diverse breeding system and frequent clutch desertion, we use 6 years of field data to derive fitness expectations for males and females depending on whether or not they care for their offspring. The resulting payoff matrix corresponds to an asymmetric Snowdrift Game with two alternative evolutionarily stable strategies (ESSs): female-only and male-only care. This, however, does not explain the polymorphism in care strategies and frequent biparental desertion, because theory predicts that one of the two ESSs should have spread to fixation. Using a bootstrapping approach, we demonstrate that taking account of individual variation in payoffs explains the patterns of care better than a model based on the average population payoff matrix. In particular, a model incorporating differences in male attractiveness closely predicts the observed frequencies of male and female desertion. Our work highlights the need for a new generation of individual-based evolutionary game-theoretic models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1927-1936
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1735
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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