No evidence for parent-offspring competition in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides

Francesca E. Gray, Jon Richardson, Tom Ratz, Per T. Smiseth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


In species where family members share a limited pool of resources, there may be competition between parents and their dependent offspring for access to these resources. Parent-offspring competition may impose a cost to family living that would constrain the evolution of parental care and family living. Yet, few studies have tested for evidence of parent-offspring competition. Here we test for parent-offspring competition in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. This species breeds on carcasses of small vertebrates that serve as food for both parents and offspring. We used a two-by-two factorial design, where we manipulated female nutritional state (food deprivation vs. control treatments) and the amount of resources (small vs. large mouse carcasses). We find that food-deprived females lost more mass than controls over the 9-day long food deprivation treatment, confirming that food deprivation caused a substantial decline in female nutritional state at the start of breeding. However, we find no evidence that increased food consumption by food-deprived females had a greater impact on offspring growth or survival when breeding on small carcasses. Instead, poor female nutritional state had a negative impact on offspring survival when females bred on large carcasses. There was more mould on the carcass when food-deprived females bred on a large carcass, suggesting that such females provided less indirect care serving to suppress microbial growth. We conclude that parent-offspring competition is associated with relatively minor costs to family members in this species, suggesting that it may not necessarily constrain the evolution of parental care and family living.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1142-1149
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date7 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh.

We thank the City of Edinburgh Council Ranger Service for permission to collect beetles at their local nature reserve at Corstorphine Hill, Edinburgh. We also thank 2 anonymous reviewers and Leigh Simmons for valuable and constructive comments on our manuscript. Finally, we thank members of the beetle lab in Edinburgh for their help with maintaining the stock population of beetles.

Data accessibility: Analyses reported in this article can be reproduced using the data provided by Gray et al. (2018).


  • amount of resources
  • nutritional state
  • parent-offspring conflict
  • parental care
  • resource consumption
  • weight gain


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