Evolvability Seminar - The Genetics and Evolution of Biparental Care
Parental care, especially elaborate parental care, is unusual. Where parental care is found, it is typically the female that cares. Sexual conflict theory predicts that the resolution of parental care depends on selection arising from costs, benefits, and the nature of selection. However, like all traits, parental care is highly variable even within species.
In the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides, females (uniparental female care), males (uniparental male care) and both sexes (biparental care) are seen. Why hasn't sexual conflict been resolved in N. vespilloides? We use quantitative and molecular genetic studies to examine how genetic variation among individuals influence the evolution of parental care. Genetic architecture, examined using quantitative genetic studies, suggests that variation in both males and females reflects genetic differences among individuals. Furthermore, males tend to specialise in indirect care (maintenance and defence of the food) while females specialise in direct care (regurgitating food to the offspring). Thus, evolutionary lines of least resistance allow any form of care including division of labour and biparental care. Molecular genetic studies show that one gene, a cGMP-dependent protein kinase ("for") involved in food-related behaviours in other species, influences direct care. Pharmacological manipulations support a direct role for expression of this gene, and show that it influences the level of direct but not indirect care in both males and females. Genetic studies, therefore, complement optimality approaches and help explain how behavioural diversity and complexity evolves despite a strong theoretical prediction for a simple outcome.
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