Effects of prior contest experience and contest outcome on female reproductive decisions and offspring fitness

Natalie Pilakouta* (Corresponding Author), Cerian Halford, Rita Racz, Per Smiseth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Winning or losing a prior contest can influence the outcome of future contests, but it might also alter subsequent reproductive decisions. For example, losers may increase their investment in the current breeding attempt if losing a contest indicates limited prospects for future breeding. Using the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, we tested whether females adjust their prehatching and posthatching reproductive effort after winning or losing a contest with a same-sex conspecific. Burying beetles breed on carcasses of small vertebrates for which there is fierce intrasexual competition. We found no evidence that winning or losing a contest influenced reproductive investment decisions in this species. Instead, we show that a female’s prior contest experience (regardless of its outcome) influenced the amount of posthatching care provided, with downstream consequences for the female’s reproductive output; both winners and losers spent more time provisioning food to their offspring and produced larger broods than females with no contest experience. We discuss the wider implications of our findings and present a conceptual model linking contest-mediated adjustments in parental investment to population-level processes. We propose that the frequency of intraspecific contests could both influence and be influenced by population dynamics in species where contest experience influences the size and/or number of offspring produced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-328
Number of pages10
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number3
Early online date21 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

We thank the Edinburgh Countryside Rangers for permission to collect beetles at Craiglockhart Hill and D. Rozen for supplying beetles from the Netherlands. We also thank L. Kruuk, J. Moorad, and M. Paquet for helpful comments on the manuscript and statistical analysis. The study was funded by Campus Hungary (R.R.) and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh (N.P./C.H./P.T.S.).


  • fighting contest
  • Nicrophorus vespilloides
  • parental care
  • population density
  • reproductive investment
  • winner-loser effects


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