When relatives mate, their inbred offspring often suffer a reduction in fitness-related traits known as “inbreeding depression.” There is mounting evidence that inbreeding depression can be exacerbated by environmental stresses such as starvation, predation, parasitism, and competition. Parental care may play an important role as a buffer against inbreeding depression in the offspring by alleviating these environmental stresses. Here, we examine the effect of parental care on the fitness costs of inbreeding in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, an insect with facultative parental care. We used a 2 × 2 factorial design with the following factors: (i) the presence or absence of a caring female parent during larval development and (ii) inbred or outbred offspring. We examined the joint influence of maternal care and inbreeding status on fitness-related offspring traits to test the hypothesis that maternal care improves the performance of inbred offspring more than that of outbred offspring. Indeed, the female's presence led to a higher increase in larval survival in inbred than in outbred broods. Receiving care at the larval stage also increased the lifespan of inbred but not outbred adults, suggesting that the beneficial buffering effects of maternal care can persist long after the offspring have become independent. Our results show that parental care has the potential to moderate the severity of inbreeding depression, which in turn may favor inbreeding tolerance and influence the evolution of mating systems and other inbreeding-avoidance mechanisms.
We thank the Edinburgh Countryside Rangers for permission to collect beetles at Corstorphine Hill, Daniel Rozen for supplying beetles from The Netherlands, Charlotte Regan for suggestions on the statistical analyses, Maarit Mäenpää and Ashleigh Whiffin for assistance in maintaining the laboratory population, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.
- parental care
- environmental stress
- inbreeding depression
- inbreeding tolerance