Parental conflict in birds: comparative analyses of offspring development, ecology and mating opportunities

V A Olson, A Liker, R P Freckleton, Tamas Szekely

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Parents often conflict over how much care to provide to their offspring. This conflict is expected to produce a negative relationship between male and female parental care, the strength of which may be mediated by both ecological and life-history variables. Previous studies have observed such trade-offs, but it is not known how generally they occur. Traditional views of sexual conflict place great importance on ecological factors in determining levels of parental care, whereas alternative views propose that the key determinant is mating opportunity. We carried out a broad-scale comparative study of parental conflict using 193 species from 41 families of birds. Using phylogenetic comparative analysis, we establish the generality of intersexual parental care conflict. We also show that parental conflict, as indicated by the disparity in care between the male and the female, depends on offspring development and mating opportunities, since in precocial species both males and females responded to increased mating opportunities. Altricial birds, however, failed to show these relationships. We also found little influence of breeding climate on parental conflict. Taken together, our results suggest that sexual conflict is a key element in the evolution of parental care systems. They also support the view that the major correlates of the intersexual conflict are mating opportunities for both sexes, rather than the breeding environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-307
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1632
Early online date21 Nov 2007
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2008

Bibliographical note

ID number: ISI:000251724600008


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