Parental care and the evolution of terrestriality in frogs

Balázs Vági, Zsolt Végvári, András Liker, Robert P. Freckleton, Tamás Székely

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Frogs and toads (Anura) exhibit some of the most diverse parental strategies in vertebrates. Identifying the evolutionary origins of parenting is fundamental to understanding the relationships between sexual selection, social evolution and parental care systems of contemporary Anura. Moreover, parenting has been hypothesized to allow the invasion of terrestrial habitats by the ancestors of terrestrial vertebrates. Using comprehensive phylogenetic analyses of frogs and toads based on data from over 1000 species that represent 46 out of 55 Anura families, we test whether parental care is associated with terrestrial reproduction and several life-history traits. Here, we show that both the duration of care and offspring protection by males and females have coevolved with terrestrial reproduction. Sexual size dimorphism is also related to care, because the large male size relative to female size is associated with increased paternal care. Furthermore, increased egg size and reduced clutch volume are associated with increased care in bivariate but not in multivariate analyses, suggesting that the relationships between care, egg size and clutch volume are mediated by terrestrial reproduction. Taken together, our results suggest that parenting by males and females has coevolved, and complex parenting traits have evolved several times independently in Anura in response to breeding in terrestrial environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20182737
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1900
Early online date10 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2019


  • Anura
  • life history
  • parental care
  • phylogenetic comparative methods
  • sexual size dimorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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