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Sexual conflict reduces offspring fitness in zebra finches


Parental care is often costly1; hence, in sexually reproducing species where both male and female parents rear their offspring (biparental care), sexual conflict over parental investment can arise2. Such conflict occurs because each care-giver would benefit from withholding parental investment for use with another partner, leading to a reduction in the amount of care given by one parent at the expense of the other3,4,5. Here we report experiments to explore the prediction from theory that parents rearing offspring alone may provide greater parental investment than when rearing offspring together with a partner3,5. We found that when the number of offspring per parent, and hence the potential workload, were kept constant, offspring received a greater per capita parental investment from single females than from both parents working together, and that males reared by single mothers were more sexually attractive as adults than their biparentally reared siblings. This difference between single- and two-parent families is due to a reduction in care provided by females when they care together with a male, rather than laziness by males or differences in the begging behaviour of chicks, supporting the claim that sexual conflict in biparental care can reduce the quality of offspring raised3,5.

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Figure 1: Parental investment for uniparental and biparental rearing regimes over a 15 day period after manipulation.
Figure 2: The mean mass of second clutches laid after the uniparental rearing regime (post-uniparental) is less than that of the biparental rearing regime (post-biparental; paired t-test, t13 = 3.39, P = 0.005).
Figure 3: Mate choice experiment.


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We thank I. P. F. Owens, L. S. Forbes, C. M. Lessells and J. M. McNamara for comments on the manuscript. The project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

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Correspondence to Ian R. Hartley.

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Royle, N., Hartley, I. & Parker, G. Sexual conflict reduces offspring fitness in zebra finches. Nature 416, 733–736 (2002).

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