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Concept: Parental investment


In most species, males do not abandon offspring or reduce paternal care when they are cuckolded by other males. This apparent lack of adjustment of paternal investment with the likelihood of paternity presents a potential challenge to our understanding of what drives selection for paternal care. In a comparative analysis across birds, fish, mammals, and insects we identify key factors that explain why cuckolded males in many species do not reduce paternal care. Specifically, we show that cuckolded males only reduce paternal investment if both the costs of caring are relatively high and there is a high risk of cuckoldry. Under these circumstances, selection is expected to favour males that reduce paternal effort in response to cuckoldry. In many species, however, these conditions are not satisfied and tolerant males have outcompeted males that abandon young.

Concepts: Human, Reproduction, Species, Understanding, Mammal, Offspring, Parental investment, Cuckold


Offspring survival can often depend on successful communication with parents about their state of need. Theory suggests that offspring will be less likely to honestly signal their need when they experience greater competition from either a greater number of nestmates or less-related nestmates. We found support for this hypothesis with a comparative analysis, examining data from across 60 species of birds. We found that offspring are less honest about their level of need when (i) they face competition from current siblings; (ii) their parents are likely to breed again, and so they are in competition with future siblings; and (iii) parental divorce or death means that they are likely to be less related to future siblings. More generally, these patterns highlight the sensitivity of communication systems to conflict between signaler and receiver while also suggesting that when there is little conflict, natural selection favors the honest.

Concepts: Family, Natural selection, Parent, Signal, Sibling, Offspring, Parental investment, Divorce


The high energetic demand of parental care requires parents to direct their resources towards the support of existing offspring rather than investing into the production of additional young. However, how such a resource flow is channelled appropriately is poorly understood. In this study, we provide the first comprehensive analysis of the physiological mechanisms coordinating parental and mating effort in an insect exhibiting biparental care. We show a hormone-mediated infertility in female burying beetles during the time the current offspring is needy and report that this temporary infertility is communicated via a pheromone to the male partner, where it inhibits copulation. A shared pathway of hormone and pheromone system ensures the reliability of the anti-aphrodisiac. Female infertility and male sexual abstinence provide for the concerted investment of parental resources into the existing developing young. Our study thus contributes to our deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying adaptive parental decisions.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Sexual intercourse, Reproduction, Insect, Sex, Fertility, Mating, Parental investment


A nongenetic, transgenerational effect of parental age on offspring fitness has been described in many taxa in the laboratory. Such a transgenerational fitness effect will have important influences on population dynamics, population age structure, and the evolution of aging and lifespan. However, effects of parental age on offspring lifetime fitness have never been demonstrated in a natural population. We show that parental age has sex-specific negative effects on lifetime fitness, using data from a pedigreed insular population of wild house sparrows. Birds whose parents were older produced fewer recruits annually than birds with younger parents, and the reduced number of recruits translated into a lifetime fitness difference. Using a long-term cross-fostering experiment, we demonstrate that this parental age effect is unlikely to be the result of changes in the environment but that it potentially is epigenetically inherited. Our study reveals the hidden consequences of late-life reproduction that persist into the next generation.

Concepts: Senescence, Population, Natural environment, Parent, Gerontology, Aging, Offspring, Parental investment


We are unique in reporting a repetition of Bateman [Bateman AJ (1948) Heredity (Edinb) 2:349-368] using his methods of parentage assignment, which linked sex differences in variance of reproductive success and variance in number of mates in small populations of Drosophila melanogaster. Using offspring phenotypes, we inferred who mated with whom and assigned offspring to parents. Like Bateman, we cultured adults expressing dramatic phenotypes, so that each adult was heterozygous-dominant at its unique marker locus but had only wild-type alleles at all other subjects' marker loci. Assuming no viability effects of parental markers on offspring, the frequencies of parental phenotypes in offspring follow mendelian expectations: one-quarter will be double-mutants who inherit the dominant gene from each parent, the offspring from which Bateman counted the number of mates per breeder; half of the offspring must be single mutants inheriting the dominant gene of one parent and the wild-type allele of the other parent; and one-quarter would inherit neither of their parent’s marker mutations. Here we show that inviability of double-mutant offspring biased inferences of mate number and number of offspring on which rest inferences of sex differences in fitness variances. Bateman’s method overestimated subjects with zero mates, underestimated subjects with one or more mates, and produced systematically biased estimates of offspring number by sex. Bateman’s methodology mismeasured fitness variances that are the key variables of sexual selection.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Allele, Evolution, Parent, Offspring, Parental investment


Offspring of parents with chronic pain are at increased risk for pain and adverse mental and physical health outcomes (Higgins et al, 2015). Although the association between chronic pain in parents and offspring has been established, few studies have addressed why or how this relation occurs. Identifying mechanisms for the transmission of risk that leads to the development of chronic pain in offspring is important for developing preventive interventions targeted to decrease risk for chronic pain and related outcomes (eg, disability and internalizing symptoms). This review presents a conceptual model for the intergenerational transmission of chronic pain from parents to offspring with the goal of setting an agenda for future research and the development of preventive interventions. Our proposed model highlights 5 potential mechanisms for the relation between parental chronic pain and pediatric chronic pain and related adverse outcomes: (1) genetics, (2) alterations in early neurobiological development, (3) pain-specific social learning, (4), general parenting and family health, and (5) exposure to stressful environment. In addition, the model presents 3 potential moderators for the relation between parent and child chronic pain: (1) the presence of chronic pain in a second parent, (2) timing, course, and location of parental chronic pain, and (3) offspring’s characteristics (ie, sex, developmental stage, race or ethnicity, and temperament). Such a framework highlights chronic pain as inherently familial and intergenerational, opening up avenues for new models of intervention and prevention that can be family centered and include at-risk children.

Concepts: Family, Medicine, Parent, Pain, Mother, Human development, Offspring, Parental investment


Avoidance of mating between related individuals is usually considered adaptive because it decreases the probability of inbreeding depression in offspring. However, mating between related partners can be adaptive if outbreeding depression is stronger than inbreeding depression or if females gain inclusive fitness benefits by mating with close kin. In the present study, we used microsatellite data to infer the parentage of juveniles born in a French colony of feral pigeons, which allowed us to deduce parent pairs. Despite detectable inbreeding depression, we found that pairwise relatedness between mates was significantly higher than between nonmates, with a mean coefficient of relatedness between mates of 0.065, approximately half the theoretical value for first cousins. This higher relatedness between mates cannot be explained by spatial genetic structure in this colonial bird; it therefore probably results from an active choice. As inbreeding but not outbreeding depression is observed in the study population, this finding accords with the idea that mating with genetically similar mates can confer a benefit in terms of inclusive fitness. Our results and published evidence suggest that preference for related individuals as mates might be relatively frequent in birds.

Concepts: Genetics, Population genetics, Consanguinity, Kin selection, Inclusive fitness, Parental investment, Rock Pigeon, Coefficient of relationship


In environments in which female economic dependence on a male mate is higher, male parental investment is more essential. In such environments, therefore, both sexes should value paternity certainty more and thus object more to promiscuity (because promiscuity undermines paternity certainty). We tested this theory of anti-promiscuity morality in two studies (N = 656 and N = 4,626) using U.S. samples. In both, we examined whether opposition to promiscuity was higher among people who perceived greater female economic dependence in their social network. In Study 2, we also tested whether economic indicators of female economic dependence (e.g., female income, welfare availability) predicted anti-promiscuity morality at the state level. Results from both studies supported the proposed theory. At the individual level, perceived female economic dependence explained significant variance in anti-promiscuity morality, even after controlling for variance explained by age, sex, religiosity, political conservatism, and the anti-promiscuity views of geographical neighbors. At the state level, median female income was strongly negatively related to anti-promiscuity morality and this relationship was fully mediated by perceived female economic dependence. These results were consistent with the view that anti-promiscuity beliefs may function to promote paternity certainty in circumstances where male parental investment is particularly important.

Concepts: Scientific method, Male, Reproduction, Female, Sex, Gamete, Hermaphrodite, Parental investment


Life history theory attempts to explain why species differ in offspring number and quality, growth rate, and parental effort. I show that unappreciated interactions of these traits in response to age-related mortality risk challenge traditional perspectives and explain life history evolution in songbirds. Counter to a long-standing paradigm, tropical songbirds grow at similar overall rates to temperate species but grow wings relatively faster. These growth tactics are favored by predation risk, both in and after leaving the nest, and are facilitated by greater provisioning of individual offspring by parents. Increased provisioning of individual offspring depends on partitioning effort among fewer young because of constraints on effort from adult and nest mortality. These growth and provisioning responses to mortality risk finally explain the conundrum of small clutch sizes of tropical birds.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Parent, Bird, Theory, Offspring, Parental investment, Life history theory


Do parents with children created through oocyte donation (OD) follow through with their original intentions regarding disclosure to their offspring, and if not, why not?

Concepts: Family, Pregnancy, Parent, Offspring, Parental investment